Firefighters meet to discuss coverage
Fire officials pose for a photo next to a fire engine at Monday’s meet and greet event. Pictured, from left, are Lynn Diehl, chief of Franklin Volunteer Fire Company; Bill George, chief of Aquashicola Fire Company; Billy Tippett, chief of Polk Volunteer Fire Company; and Eric George, Towamensing fire police captain. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
Yellow fire engines line the parking lot of Country Junction on Interchange Road. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS
The four fire companies charged with protecting Towamensing while the township’s volunteer roster rebuilds met collectively for the first time Monday evening.
Aquashicola, Franklin and Polk fire companies have been responding to emergency calls in Towamensing since late summer, after a volunteer strain weakened Towamensing Volunteer Fire Company. The resulting protocol split Towamensing into three districts, to be covered by the three companies.
Members from Towamensing fire also provide support when capable.
“If we got to go into battle, so to speak, with these guys, let’s get to know them, put a face to a number,” said Bill George, chief of Aquashicola Fire Company.
Each company trucked fire engines to the meeting site — Country Junction on Interchange Road. Towamensing residents were also invited to attend. Rain fell as members from each company toured the others’ vehicles, examining the different storage procedures and machinery.
Aleksander Everett, 25, said he joined Aquashicola Volunteer Fire Company about a year ago. “I always wanted to do something in the community,” Everett, a Lower Towamensing resident, added.
When the meet and greet officially kicked off, Everett gave tours of Aquashicola’s yellow engines to volunteers from other companies.
But more important than becoming familiar with another apparatus, Everett noted, was getting acquainted with its members.
“That way we know each other,” he said. “We kind of know each other’s abilities, and each others’ strengths, and I guess each others’ weaknesses, too.”
Towamensing fire’s shrinking roster has put the company in a tough spot. Two chiefs have left this year, with the most recent resignation being turned in just last month.
“All the residents in the township don’t really recognize that this is a volunteer organization,” Guy Seifert, Towamensing supervisor, said. “Because of that, they just kind of ignore us, until their house burns down. … It’s a thankless job.”
The company recently elected an interim chief, Steven Riggio, to serve in the position until the year’s end, according to Eric George, fire police captain.
The township’s struggle to retain firefighters reflects a broader, statewide volunteer decline threatening Pennsylvania’s emergency response system. The number of unpaid firefighters in the commonwealth has dwindled over the decades, while its population has only increased.
In his testimony to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee last week, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego said going forward, combining volunteer efforts — or regionalization — might be essential to some fire companies’ survival.
“There are probably more communities that need to take a good, hard look at the number of apparatus, where the tax base is, where the calls are and look at providing the proper protection for that area,” Trego said.
It’s a reality that hasn’t been lost on Billy Tippett, chief of Polk Volunteer Fire Company. Tippett said, like Franklin and Aquashicola, his apparatus is strong now, but that might not always be the case.
“The writing’s on the wall for everybody for regionalization,” he said. “It’s going to happen, but right now we’re holding our own.”
For now, Aquashicola, Polk and Franklin plan to fill any gap in emergency coverage while Towamensing tries to strengthen its roster. The company could use volunteers of any age, but especially experienced firefighters who are willing to lead younger ones, Seifert said.
“It all boils down to bringing people in,” he said. “They need to come out and help these young kids understand what it is to be a firefighter.”