The Mummers
Mayor James: Regarding comments from William J. Lavin, NJFMBA State President

Re: A Hot Topic

Pen_a Note from Bill: Below is the Courier Post article that I used to write my editorial. The lines I used for information are highlighted. In my article I mistakenly used the demographics for West Deptford instead of Deptford. One of the points I was trying to make is not so much about demographics, although that is import. What I was also trying to get across is the fact that volunteers are being used by these fire departments to cut down on costs. The story also points out how Fire Departments conduct outreach programs to attract more volunteers. In my opinion that is something Gloucester City should and could be doing. 

Emergency Call Volume Increases

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Courier-Post Staff, 

WINSLOW-There's a transition under way in the township fire department but also an effort to hold on to timeworn traditions. And Winslow is not the only town performing this balancing act.

Four career firefighters have been hired here since last year and plans call for five more full-timers within the next year. But department officials say they still want to keep the tradition of volunteers to augment the full-timers.

"Last year, we went from 1,303 emergency dispatches to be on pace this year for up to 1,600," said township fire Chief Peter Finley. "A few years ago we were at about 500 to 600 calls a year."

The chief said demands for coverage in a rapidly growing township, especially during weekdays, is driving the change. The population of Winslow, which is 58 square miles, stand at about 34,000 people.

"The days when volunteers worked in town and could leave their jobs and go off to a fire call just doesn't happen anymore," Finley said. "Also, a lot of people have more than one job and have family activities. It makes it difficult to dedicate the time necessary to do that.

"It's a national problem, recruiting and attracting quality people to the volunteer ranks. Training is getting more difficult and a lot more time and energy is required."

Finley said more career staff doesn't spell the end for the 140 volunteers in the seven fire companies in the township.

The township now gets full-time coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and volunteers are on hand in fire stations from 6 p.m. to midnight. After midnight, volunteers respond from home to the station and the fire scene.

The typical township resident paid about $191 yearly to fund the fire district in 2007. That's based on a tax rate of 19 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. In 2006, typical residents paid $165.

The starting pay for full-time firefighters is $40,700. Add in benefits and each full-timer costs about $55,000.

Edward Kensler Jr., chief of the Florence fire department, shares Finley's concerns. His department also uses a combination of career and volunteer firefighters.

"Fire companies need to do a better job reaching out and attracting new volunteers," said Kensler, the first career firefighter hired in Florence in 1987 and now one of six career firefighters there among 35 volunteers. "Our volume of calls has gone from 200 a few years ago to up to 450 a year now."

While Florence, with about 12,000 residents, has a third of the population of Winslow and a fifth of Winslow's 58-square-mile area, it still is affected by many of the same problems that drive up response calls.

Home-security calls are an issue, Kensler said.

"And about 90 percent of the home-security calls are false alarms," he said. "We call them Smells and Bells."

Finley said about a third of his calls are from home-security systems. Kensler said he has to guard against the false alarms lulling volunteers into not responding for every call.

"If you get three out of four false alarms a week it might put some doubt in a volunteer's mind if they really need to respond to this address when the pager goes off," Kensler said.

Chief Stephen Hubbs of Deptford shares those concerns.

"My call volume has increased by 90 percent since 2001," said Hubbs, 47, one of 20 career firefighters here among 110 volunteers.

Hubbs said emergency medical assists and car accidents dwarf actual calls for fires in his department. False alarms also outpace actual fire calls. He said automatic alarm systems are now required by building codes here.

Hubbs cited statistics from the National Volunteer Firefighters Council that say 70 percent of firefighters nationally are volunteers. Volunteer recruitment remains an essential part of fire and emergency response in Deptford.

Winslow fire officials are also concerned about continuing to recruit volunteer firefighters as they hire career staffers.

"We got a number of new homes going up with new residents," said Anthony Sirolli, chairman of Winslow Township Fire District. "Sometimes we just pull an engine into a development to try to get young people interested in becoming volunteers."

Another part of the district's outreach is its annual Fire Prevention Open House, held this year on Sunday at Winslow Township High School on Cooper Folly Road. The event features pony rides, a roller coaster and a giveaway of two computer systems to local residents. The event, from 1 to 4 p.m. is free and also features free food and drinks.