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Volunteer Fire Departments Sound The Alarm On Dwindling Participation

CANONSBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- Volunteer fire departments nationwide are feeling the impacts of staffing shortages.

Tim Solobay, the fire chief at Canonsburg Volunteer Fire Department, said the number of volunteer members across the state has been on a steady decline since the '70s.

"They used to see numbers around 300,000 volunteer firefighters back then. Now, there are maybe 30,000 to 35,000 volunteers left," Solobay said.

At the Canonsburg Volunteer Fire Department, Solobay said staffing has gone from 45 members to between 20 and 25.

fire department canonsburg
(Photo Credit: Erika Stanish/KDKA)

"Probably about two years ago, we brought five new people in and that was the biggest class we've had for quite a while. Three of the five are still with us," Solobay said.

Solobay said if numbers continue to decline at volunteer stations across the country, it could end up costing individual communities hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's X amount of dollars to operate here in Canonsburg. If they had to replace us with a career department, they would probably pay about 10 times the amount of money that they spend on us right now," Solobay said.

He said the department typically responds to about 300 calls a year and relies on surrounding departments to help, depending on the type of call that comes in.

"It puts a lot of strain, not only with the individual department, but it now makes us reach out to other departments to help an assist depending on the severity or the size of what the emergency may be," Solobay said.

Solobay said the department is constantly working to recruit new members.

"It's a great way to give back to your community. It's a great, great way to maybe kind of fulfill yourself as far as wanting to do something that's a give-back," Solobay said. "If you want to do it, you'll find a way to make it happen.

Anyone interested in volunteering at the Canonsburg Volunteer Fire Department should call 724-746-1014.

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