$2.2M grant helps Pa. firefighter recruitment campaign exceed goal
21 volunteer fire departments in the Capital Region Firefighter Recruitment Campaign are aiming to recruit 200 firefighters by 2025
By Maddie Seiler
CAMP HILL, Pa. — May 12 - As a kid, Joey Perales was always interested in firefighting.
When he learned that a junior firefighting program for teens ages 14 to 17 existed, he did a little research and put in an application to volunteer for New Kingstown Fire Company in May 2022.
"... You always see them go by," Joey said. "You hear the house siren go off, and it was always a rush to see that, so I wanted to be a part of [that]."
This June, the now 16-year-old Silver Spring Township resident will celebrate one year of volunteer service.
Perales' one-year mark will come just weeks after the Capital Region Firefighter Recruitment Campaign celebrated its own first anniversary.
The campaign launched on April 27, 2022, and came from a four-year $2.2 million grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Capital Region Council of Governments, or CapCOG. It united 21 capital region fire companies with the goal of recruiting a total of 200 volunteers throughout its lifespan, which extends through 2025.
Now a year in, participating companies have gained a combined total of 71 new volunteer firefighters, 21 over the annual goal of 50 new volunteers.
"When volunteer fire companies and municipalities work together toward a common vision, good things can happen," said Jerry Ozog, a member of the CapCOG Advisory Committee and executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. "This collaborative project between the local governments and volunteer fire companies has exceeded my expectations."
New Kingstown Fire Company is one of many Cumberland County departments participating in the campaign, including Union Fire Company, Monroe Fire Company, Silver Spring, Hampden, West Shore Bureau of Fire, East Pennsboro, Camp Hill, Carlisle Fire & Rescue Services, Lisburn, Lower Allen, Upper Allen and New Cumberland.
Chief Curtis Hall of New Kingstown Fire Company said the department gained 10 volunteers in 2022 and two more so far this year.
He described the campaign as a tool that helps get the word out about a need for members, including firefighters, fire police, junior members and administrative volunteers that span departments across the region.
"If we're not advertising, then people don't know, they just assume that we're good," Hall said. "They see the fire trucks rolling down the street and they assume that there are people on them, so if we don't get that word out there that we need help, then they don't know."
During year one of the Capital Region Firefighter Recruitment Campaign, Hall said New Kingstown has shared information as much as possible on social media.
He said the grant funding the campaign is helping to cover the cost of training, which is free for volunteers. This allows the department to reallocate a portion of its budget typically dedicated to training costs for other uses, such as buying equipment.
The retention side of the grant will also provide up to a $500 stipend for Firefighter-I certified members who responded to at least 12% of the prior year's calls, according to the grant's program manager, Scot Ryno. While this stipend only exists through the life of the grant, Hall said departments could choose to build the amount into their annual budgets.
"We know that there's there [are] people that live in our communities that are capable of assisting and maybe receiving the training for firefighters," Hall said. "Now through the grant is the perfect opportunity that they can try that out."
Since he joined the company, Joey has responded to fires, crashes and other calls. He's also participated in multiple community events and training, including a structural burn class on April 30 at a building on Hempt Road in Silver Spring Township.
"I've learned a lot about fire safety [and] kind of the science behind fire development," he said, adding that he plans to further his training and continue his fire service.
More information about the campaign and how to volunteer is available at www.capitalregionfirefighter.org.
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