For nearly 70 years, the Starbrick Volunteer Fire Department has answered the call when residents need help.
On Wednesday, residents had a chance to answer the department’s call.
Fire officials recently told Conewango Township supervisors that their department was in danger of closing. They decided to get as many ideas as possible to help their firefighters save.
About 100 people showed up for a Save Our Fire Department town hall meeting Wednesday night.
“We try to come up with sustainable solutions for our residents to keep fire and ambulance service”, Supervisor Jeff Zariczny said.
The ideas shared Wednesday were heard by the county’s representatives in the state legislature. Both Representative Kathy Rapp and Senator Scott Hutchinson attended the meeting.
Chief Kirk Foust addressed the group and talked about the history of the department and his history with it.
The department was founded in 1955.
Foust joined as a junior firefighter in 1988 and became chief in 2003.
Membership began to decline in 2010, he said. That situation has gotten worse over the past two years.
“Last year into this year we had a big decline in membership,” said Foust. “I have four or five indoor firefighters and four or five EMTs.”
With so few members, the department cannot respond to every call.
“There are times during the day when we are off duty”, he said.
“Our young boys are moving”, said Deputy Chief Mike Noe. “All our manpower goes to work elsewhere.”
Starbrick is on one “automatic transmission” agreement with North Warren Volunteer Fire Department, Foust said. Each time a station is called, both respond.
North Warren doesn’t have the same immediate membership issues.
“We have 31 active members, 14 firefighters”, So said North Warren chief Shawn Jones. “We can usually get eight to ten.”
But closing Starbrick and letting North Warren handle his calls isn’t a reasonable solution. “It’s not that easy if one department takes over”, Jones said. “It’s a big congregation.”
“We are looking at several ideas to make this a viable fire service for the future,” said no. “Maybe the idea you have here is going to help the county.”
Many of those present were members of other chapters. The membership concern is more pressing at Starbrick, but it’s not an isolated issue.
Warren County public safety director Ken McCorrison addressed the group and said he had met with other departments and governments. “All discussions revolved around declining membership and lack of manpower – especially during the day,” he said. he said.
“I think the solution should be much bigger than Conewango Township,” Zariczny said.
McCorrison said many departments are holding on “with a very small core group” and those core members “deserves our respect. Let’s support them.”
The municipality must provide fire and ambulance services for its residents.
One of the ways to do that is to have a paid department. “That will have a dramatic impact on all of you,” Jones told the taxpayer.
McCorrison said some agencies in the eastern part of the county are collaborating, pooling resources, and “pay to have (EMS) resources in their area.”
Efforts have also been made to attract more volunteers. The township has been trying to boost membership and allocated dollars to the chapters to address membership issues. “We have set aside $10,000 for each department,” Zariczny said.
“We spent that $10,000 on recruiting,” Jones said.
The department organizes events, raises awareness and even buys signs.
Even with a membership in the 30’s, North Warren is looking for more people.
“Our goal this year is to attract two new members,” Jones said.
The department needs indoor firefighters. That training is extensive – 166 hours.
But in addition to putting out fires and handling ambulance calls, today’s firefighters also perform administrative, financial, custodial and other tasks.
The township and the department hope that people who already have those skills will take it a step further.
“We don’t have the manpower to run fundraisers,” said Foust. The department depends for the majority of its funding on payments received for its ambulance service.
“There are many other things that need to be done around a fire station,” Supervisor David Gee said. “Come out and help.”
“Getting people in helps my men do their jobs,” Jones said. He has found a volunteer photographer and information officer. While these are not critical features on a fire scene, “Those are supporting roles that we can absolutely use.”
Someone willing to drive equipment to the scene or work as a firefighter requires far less training (16 hours each) than an indoor firefighter.
“Associate members can be fundraisers, lead, sit on the board of trustees, clean up,” said Foust. “Anything but getting in a truck and going out the door.”
Starbrick needs help with all those things.
“These are companies,” said no. “They have books. We all wear two hats… or three. I didn’t go to school to learn how to run a business. You… your friends, neighbors and colleagues have that expertise. I would take any businessman and put you in administrative positions.
Someone in the audience asked about the intrinsic motivations and rewards of being a volunteer.
“It’s a very close-knit group – camaraderie plays a big part in it,” Jones said. “You know you’ve done a great job for your community.”
One of the crowd’s suggestions was to get that message out, to encourage people – especially young people – to fit in, to find their purpose. “They want to belong to something that’s real,” he said.
He suggested that too “good Samaritans” are encouraged to participate in comments to the extent they are legally and physically able.
Another suggested that the department or supervisors approach the Warren County Veterans Affairs office. “Many of the veterans I talk to get a little lost in the transition[from active duty to civilian life],” she said. Service in a volunteer fire department may fulfill a need they feel to serve the community, structure, or affiliation.
Jones thought that was a good idea. “We are a paramilitary organization”, he said. “That’s how we’re structured.”
One of the suggestions was to share events and profits with other organizations. A group that has staff but not a large venue may be willing to host bingo and share the profits with the department.
“I really want to thank Starbrick Volunteer Fire Department for hosting this town hall,” Zariczny said. “I am very grateful for the help.”
“It went well,” Go said. “We got good ideas from people.”
“It’s already a victory”, said Foust. In addition to several people signing interest forms on Wednesday, “We had four people come in last night for a drill that picked up job applications.”
While the organizers were pleased with the turnout of the meeting, they wanted to hear from more people.
“We found that people had no idea there was a need,” Go said. “You don’t have to be a firefighter to come in and relieve some of their stress.”
The supervisors asked those present to spread the word that there will be another town hall meeting in the fire hall on Tuesday, April 11 at 7 p.m.
“If you can’t come, at least tell people,” Go said.
“Get the message out”, Zariczny said.