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Why Farrell Fire Department is no longer just volunteers, made up of many positions

Pennsylvania is losing volunteer fire departments

FARRELL, Pa. (WKBN) - Farrell Fire Department is a kind of hybrid fire department. Of 28 people who work there, two are full-time paid members, 18 are part time paid members and eight volunteers.

It's one of a growing number of departments that have gone from strictly volunteer to several different types of positions. 

The reason for the change has been nearly 50 years in the making.

In the 1970s Pennsylvania fire departments had more than 350,000 volunteers. Last year, there were 40,000.

Pennsylvania is losing volunteer fire departments. So why did this happen? 

"The decreased population. We don't have the manpower we used to. The mills have closed. People have moved away," said Farrell Fire Chief Mike Renner.

Renner says without jobs in the area, less people live there, which means less taxes. 

"The communities don't have the tax base to support fire departments anymore," Renner said.

It's also a cultural shift, people just have more to do nowadays than they did 50 years ago. Not as many people are able to volunteer. 

"90 percent of them have full-time jobs," Renner said. 

"Who runs the kids to soccer, who picks them up and takes them to the other sporting events or activities?" asked Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego.

Trego says inflation also plays a huge factor in this trend. He described how much it costs to buy a standard fire engine.

"In the 70s we purchased one for under $50,000. That same piece you can't buy for less than $300,000," Trego said.

What does this mean for you? The person who's house could catch on fire. 

If they are shorthanded firefighters will often use mutual aid. 

For now, Chief Renner says he will stay with his hybrid style fire department. 

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