Bolstering the Brave: Four-Year Grant Funds a Countywide Effort to Increase Volunteer Firefighter Numbers

Montgomery County is currently experiencing a dire shortage of volunteer firefighters.

At a recent press event, Montgomery County Fire Chief’s Association George Wilmot cited the data that illustrate the problem. “The number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania has shrunk from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018,” he explained.

He said that the falloff is particularly dire in Montgomery County, where “…the majority of our 80+ fire companies are primarily made up of volunteers.”

The Solution: Recruitment

Fortunately, the Montgomery County Fire Chief’s Association has a solution: a four-year county-wide recruitment and retention campaign designed to grow its base of volunteer firefighters.

With more than 80 fire companies involved, the Montgomery County Fire Chief’s Association has hit the ground running by launching a comprehensive multiphase volunteer recruitment outreach effort.

“Ordinary People. Trained for the Extraordinary”

The initiative’s tagline, “Ordinary People. Trained for the Extraordinary,” is core to a new recruitment website. The call to action reminds that everyone has what it takes to fight fires: a desire to help.

Potential volunteers who visit the county website can locate a local fire company using an interactive map, learn more about the different ways to volunteer, or fill out an inquiry form. They will then be contacted by the fire company that is closest to their supplied address.

The Montgomery County Fire Chief’s Association’s four-year recruitment campaign represents no cost to taxpayers. It is funded entirely through the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The purpose of this grant is to help us increase and retain the number of trained firefighters in our communities,” said Limerick Fire Department Deputy Chief Glen Russell. “We are so grateful to be a recipient.”

Russell continued: “People can think firefighting is a young-adult calling. And although we do rely on volunteers in their 20s, we’ve got jobs for those in their 50s and 60s as well. You can’t climb a roof above a burning building and cut a hole in it? Okay. Maybe you can drive the truck. Or serve as a member of the fire police. Or even just help at one of our community events.”

Wilmot echoed that sentiment: “We hope with this campaign that the community will see we are ordinary people looking to give back to their community,” he said “We come from all different walks of life.”

Potential volunteers should keep in mind no prior experience is necessary. The fire companies provide state-of-the-art training and gear, free of cost.

More on this effort to increase the number of Montgomery County volunteer firefighters is online.


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By Dan Weckerly