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Officials: Most volunteer firefighters are over age 40

“Volunteerism is dying, there is not a doubt in mind... The hard part is what’s that next step? How do we get other generations to come in?” Chief Bill Weimer said

By FireRescue1 Staff

TOBYHANNA, Pa. — Officials said the number of volunteer firefighters is decreasing and more than half of existing volunteers nationwide are over 40.

Pocono Record reported that the number of volunteers across Pennsylvania has dropped from 300,000 in the 1970s to about 50,000 today.

“Volunteerism is dying, there is not a doubt in mind, and that’s all over. The hard part is what’s that next step? How do we get other generations to come in? Is it technology? Is it T-shirts? I don’t know,” Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Company Chief Bill Weimer said. “Everybody is hurting, you can always use 60 or 70 firefighters. I don’t think one person would claim they have too many people.”

Volunteer companies around the United States are struggling with the growth of municipalities and the lack of volunteers to keep up, according to the report.

“We were very close to our cap, which was 65 members, almost to the point that we were at a waiting list. Over time, it has declined by about 50 percent of that,” Chief Weimer said. “It’s a tough wakeup call when you look around and you used to have four or five trucks and now you only have two.”

Chief Weimer added that the company averages between five to seven members per call, a number that has decreased since 2012, when the average was 12 members per call.

Chief Weimer, along with other departments across the nation, are also struggling with recruiting the younger demographic. The National Fire Protection Association said more than half of the volunteers in the U.S. are over 40 years old and about 23 percent are less than 29.

“The toughest part with recruitment is the changing or evolving of human beings. What works today may not work tomorrow to bring people in,” Chief Weimer said. “My 12-year-old son is programmed so much more differently than I am ... we have to understand that in the fire service.”