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Volunteer firefighters desperate to fill vacancies within departments

Call volumes are increasing and the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide is dwindling.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — For decades, worker shortages have plagued volunteer fire companies nationwide and here in Pennsylvania.

"We rely heavily on their presence. We’ve never had a house fire," said Dauphin County resident, Richard Morrison.

According to data from the U.S. Fire Administration, there are nearly 2,000 registered fire departments in Pennsylvania and at least 90 percent of them are volunteer-operated. Finding volunteers remains an uphill battle.

"We can always seem to get people who are interested. Everybody loves to become a firefighter and ride the big trucks, but keeping them around is what matters," said Peter Taraborelli, a volunteer firefighter at the Mountville Fire Company in Lancaster County.

Taraborelli said the job of a volunteer firefighter is demanding and time-consuming, something many people are not willing to commit to over time. 

"There’s training on the weekends, there are lots of certifications, lots of classes. That’s a lot of time away from your family," Taraborelli said.

The amount o  time volunteer firefighters donate save municipalities nearly $50 billion each year, according to the National Fire Council. In Strasburg, the volunteer firefighter shortfall has led to dayside staffing challenges because most volunteers are working their main jobs during these hours. 

"You know obviously we’re all volunteer, but everybody has a [ full-time] job, whether it’s 50 miles away or half a mile away, " said Chief John Stoltzfus of the Strasburg Volunteer Fire Company.

To gain new recruits, Taraborelli reached out to high school students interested in joining the fire department. He said a large percentage usually quit for paying jobs once they receive their certifications.

"It’s disappointing, but we get to see that progression in them," he added.

As the demand for volunteer firefighters grows, workers predict companies will be forced to consolidate.

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