Outreach effort aims for 400 recruits with tagline: ‘Ordinary People. Trained for the Extraordinary.
From left to right: Glen Russell, Chair of Recruitment & Retention Committee, Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association; Ron Griffith, Abington Township Fire Department firefighter; Matt Kozeniewski, Centre Square Fire Company firefighter; George Wilmot, President of the Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association; Mike Jones, Chief of Abington Fire Company; and Zach Trowbridge, Horsham Fire Company firefighter. (Photo courtesy Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association)
By LINDA FINARELLI |
PUBLISHED: November 15, 2022 at 2:27 p.m. | UPDATED: November 15, 2022 at 5:16 p.m.
ABINGTON >> Abington resident Ron Griffith, a 20-year New York City police veteran, is among the newest members of the Edgehill Fire Company and, undoubtedly, the oldest to be certified. Griffith is 60.
One of several firefighters and officials who spoke at the Nov. 14 kickoff of a four-year, $686,000 Montgomery County Fire Chief’s Association campaign to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters, Griffith is a shining example of the new outreach effort’s tagline, “Ordinary People. Trained for the Extraordinary.”
A former member of the NYC Emergency Services Unit — “our version of SWAT” — during the 9/11 terrorist attack, where, he said, he “lost my sergeant and 23 other guys I know,” Griffith said, “Anyone who decides to serve is extraordinary.”
“Tonight marks a new beginning in Montgomery County as we work to rebuild our base of volunteer firefighters,” said Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association President George Wilmot.
The kickoff begins an aggressive campaign to recruit 400 volunteer firefighters, utilizing the $686,000 grant acquired from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund an awareness and recruitment effort for every fire department in Montgomery County.
Mirroring a nationwide shortage, “in Pennsylvania the number of volunteer firefighters has shrunk from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018,” Wilmot, the Flourtown Fire Company assistant chief, said.
As the majority of firefighters in the more than 80 fire companies in Montgomery County are volunteers, this puts the county, the third most populous in the state with 860,000 residents “at risk,” Wilmot said.
Courtesy of Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association
1 of 3
George Wilmot, president of the Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association, speaks to the need for more firefighters. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association)
“Today fire and emergency services are in crisis,” Acting State Fire Commissioner Chief Charles McGarvey, a former volunteer firefighter in Bryn Mawr, said.
Noting there are “less than two minutes to escape before a flashover,” he said, Pennsylvania led the nation with 148 fire fatalities in 2021 and has “144 as of today” in 2022.
“We are forced to do more with less,” McGarvey said. “It cannot continue to be ignored.
“We are working together to turn this crisis around.”
Grant targets recruitment
With the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Montgomery County’s fire companies will collaborate to recruit 400 new volunteer firefighters, Wilmot said.
In preparation of launching the four-year effort, he said, the county’s fire companies have already joined together to: choose a marketing company experienced in running firefighter recruitment campaigns; develop the “ordinary people trained for the extraordinary” campaign brand; and hold community fire expos that have been turned into “a series of recruitment videos slated to run all over the county.”
Plans include collaborating on recruitment techniques through best practices training, saturating social media and local press with the campaign, and creating literature, he said.
‘Ordinary people trained for the extraordinary’
“We are looking for ordinary people to train for the extraordinary,” Limerick Fire Department Deputy Chief and Recruitment and Retention Committee Chair Glen Russell said. “That’s exactly who we are — ordinary people trained to fight fires and give back to our community.”
With a new website, www.MontcoFireFighters.org, potential volunteers will be able to easily fill out a form, after which their local fire department will contact them within 24 to 48 hours, he said.
While “telling a friend is the best way to get recruits,” Russell said the campaign is encouraging others to share the website, follow on Instagram and Facebook, invite firefighters to speak at municipal meetings and set up its booth at community events.
“Every volunteer within this region has a story to tell and sharing that story will yield more volunteers,” he said.
Crediting Pennsylvania American Water, Aqua Water and Exelon for funding the grant submission process, Russell also thanked the Abington Township Fire Department for hosting the press conference at its training facility.
The Florey Lane facility is used by both Abington and regional fire companies, Abington Fire Company Chief Mike Jones said.
With the declining number of volunteers, being able to “offer an at-home facility is very important to us,” he said.
Touting the personal benefits, Matt Kozeniewski, a teacher and 8-year volunteer firefighter with Centre Square Fire Company, said he’s gained “a lot of skills I didn’t know I had — everyday life benefits.”
“It’s an incredible experience to be involved with the community,” said Zach Trowbridge, a member of the Horsham Fire Company and recent graduate of the Firefighter 1 certification program.
“Nothing is ever as fulfilling as doing rescues,” said Griffith, reflecting on his decision to become a volunteer firefighter. “I wanted to enjoy continuing to serve my community. I have a lot of admiration for these people who are committed to put out fires without being paid.”