2017-10-12 / Front Page

Area fire departments face growing need for new recruits

By Cheryl Holladay


Gerrish Township Fire Chief Jim Lippert Gerrish Township Fire Chief Jim Lippert With many volunteer fire departments “aging,” the need to recruit younger fire­fighters, both men and women, is be­coming more urgent.

Several fire departments in Roscom­mon County have a core group of fire­fighters who have served for decades.

“Oh, it’s definitely an issue,” Gerrish Township Fire Chief Jim Lippert said.

Lippert said his department is dealing with the need for firefighters by cross- training other emergency personnel.

Police officers or EMTs could step in, he said, if need be. Spouses of firefight­ers are also asked to join the roster.

Lippert said there are at least two to three firefighters on scene at almost ev­ery fire. Townships also participate in mutual aid through a county-wide agree­ment, he said.

“We still put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” he said, but there have been many changes in requirements over the years, including equipment and manpower.

Lippert said firefighters are required to perform an agility test yearly to en­sure they are strong and healthy enough. He added that “weight is an issue” and that his department pays for two-thirds of the cost of a CRAF Center member­ship.

Higgins Township Fire Chief Tim Mepham said there is a core group of firefighters on his department who have been on the department for about 20 years.

He believes the economy has some­thing to do with fewer younger firefight­ers because in “the old days” more em­ployers would let a firefighting employee leave work.

Higgins Township firefighter Mark Roemer agreed, saying it can be a chal­lenge for volunteer firefighters who work because some employers may not be as supportive as others.

Roemer, who is part-proprietor of the Rosco Mini-Mart, said, for example, that a firefighter might be gone from work for two hours total (including travel time), but may only be paid by the employer for the actual time spent on the fire.

Ken Elmore of the Markey Township Fire Department (and a retired full-time firefighter from downstate), said chal­lenges face fire departments “all over” the state.

However, becoming a firefighter is “life-changing,” he said.

“It is such a rewarding career once you get in it,” he said.

He noted that after Sept. 11, 2001, there was an increase in the number of applicants and an “outpouring of public support” because people realized what the fire service is about.

Elmore expressed his appreciation to those who show support for the fire and emergency services in area towns, the county and beyond.

“We simply could not do it without you,” he said, of the public. “But the job is never done and each new day brings new challenges to face and overcome.”

Elmore said firefighters tackle prob­lems to the best of their ability.

“We know how to handle a crisis and as firefighters we have no problem charging headlong into the fray no mat­ter what,” he said, adding that there is one challenge out there they could use some help with.

“Getting right to the point, some of us are getting up there in years, and many of the rosters in departments all over are getting a little thin,” he said.

Fire chiefs and township boards, he said, must contend with the task of con­vincing the rest of the public that the fire service is always on the lookout for new folks to join the ranks.

“As a longtime firefighter, let me share a few thoughts,” Elmore said. “To start, I think many people view us as a little different, sort of an ‘us and them’ thing. Not true. We’re no different other than at some point we were motivated by some situation to take that one extra step and to see if we could be of some assistance.”

He said firefighters have jobs, homes, families, bills to pay and all of the other trappings of life that must be attended to.

“This is one of the difficulties faced by departments trying to recruit new members, the hectic pace of life,” he said.

Added to that, he said, is the fact that the modern firefighter is much more than those of past times. With advances in tools, training and technology, today’s firefighter is called upon to handle a wide variety of situations no one else can, he said.

“Add to this the advancements made on the medical end, and it is one exciting challenge after another,” he said.

Elmore said that being able to handle this array of tasks takes time and train­ing. Firefighters must complete training and education to keep both themselves and those they protect as safe as possi­ble, he said, adding that there are certifi­cations and licenses that are required by government in order to provide services that present both chiefs and officials with logistical and financial obstacles.

“This means there are time commit­ments that one has to face to get to the point intended,” he said, “but the class­es are fun and you’ll make some great friends.”

He said it may be a cliché, but that “if I can do it, so can you – and you’ll prob­ably be better at it!”

While a prospective firefighter might ask himself or herself “what’s in it for me?” Elmore would say, “Plenty.”

He said, while firefighting classes and gas money are covered, there is a different kind of wealth attached to the fire service.

“The richness grows inside of you,” he said. “There is a feeling of pride that you start with as you become a member of a group of folks just like you, will­ing to help your fellow man. There is an indescribable sense of excitement that grips you as you respond to your first calls for help. What is it? Where are we going? What will we find? You develop a sense of compassion when you realize that all that lies between disaster and that person with terror or agony in their eyes is you and your comrades…The wealth and riches you gain by helping your neighbor cannot be held by any bank, but rather are kept safe in your heart and mind forever.”

Elmore suggested letting the powers that be handle the challenges of running the departments, “while we [firefight­ers] handle the challenges of helping our neighbors and communities.”

He issued a challenge to potential firefighters.

“How about it? The final challenge is yours,” he said. “Will we see you at the next meeting?”

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