On Thursday, Jan. 4, more than 70 Indian River High School students attend a presentation by several local volunteer fire departments — part of an effort to promote junior recruitment for area fire companies.
Representatives from the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company (VFC), Millville VFC, Selbyville VFC, Dagsboro VFC and Roxana VFC were on hand to answer questions and exhibit common apparatus used within each company. Representatives from Sussex County Paramedics and Christiana Care also attended, providing information on career choices in medical fields.
The two-hour presentation, organized primarily by Chief Robbie Murray of the Frankford VFC and Chief Tom Glenn of the Dagsboro VFC, was the first of its kind. And judging by the turnout, it was quite a success.
“One of our committees came up with the idea [for this presentation] and we put it around to other companies,” said Glenn. “We’ve come this far, and we’ve had a lot of people do a lot of work. It looks like it paid off. There’s a really good turnout.”
Glenn said it is a perfect way to promote recruitment for the companies’ junior programs. “It’s important to start early. The average lifespan of a volunteer firefighter is only three to five years. There’s so much going on anymore. You only have a few people who will stay for 20 or 30 years. [But] it’s a great friendship that you establish with the other firefighters,” he noted.
“We are a team,” Murray said in his opening oration to the students. “None of us can do this alone. We are all volunteers, and we need to start grooming, training and educating tomorrow’s firefighters.” A slideshow informed students of the benefits and expectations that come with volunteering with the company, with a brief movie displaying clips and pictures from local calls.
Millville VFC’s public information officer, Robert Powell, discussed the scholarship funds available to junior volunteers through the Delaware Volunteer Firemen’s Association (DVFA).
“As a volunteer,” said Powell, “you’ll provide a service to your community and get something in return.” More than $30,000 worth of scholarship funds have been spent in the organizations past 20 years. “I guarantee at least one $3,000 scholarship will be awarded this year,” he added.
Following the slideshow, students met with volunteers within their respected districts for a chance to get more closely acquainted.
Chief Andy Johnson has been with the Roxana VFC for 17 years. “A lot of the guys in the fire service are getting old,” he said. “The younger guys need to come in and take over. If we can catch them before all the partying life starts, we might be able to knock some of that out of there and get them into the community service program.”
Ray Stevens has served as president of the Selbyville VFC, with Sussex County’s fire department and with the DVFA, and is all too familiar with the importance of junior recruitment. He was also appointed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2005 to serve on the State Fire Prevention Commission.
“This is a tremendous program,” he said. “Robbie Murray from Frankford and the Sussex County fire chiefs should to be commended for this.”
Stevens recognized the change over time in the volunteer fire department. “When I joined the fire company, there was a waiting list — 15 or 16 people on the list — and someone had to either pass way or move out of the fire district before you got in,” Stevens said.
“It’s not that way in the volunteer fire service anymore,” he continued. “Kids have all kinds of games and cars, and they have other interests. We do need to have recruitment and retention. There are a lot of benefits now that firefighters didn’t have years ago, with pension, life insurance, $600 a year tax credit and things of that nature.”
Numbers throughout companies in the area are relatively similar when it comes to current junior recruits, though some have experienced a decline over the years as juniors move up. Roxana and Selbyville each have five members enrolled in their junior programs, while Dagsboro currently has seven.
Millville Fire Chief Walter Johnson said the presentation is a perfect way to get the younger people involved. “We gave out 12 applications today to people who live around us,” said Walter Johnson. “If we get two back, I’m happy. If we get one back, I’m happy.” Like Dagsboro, Millville currently has seven juniors in their program. “The highest we’ve ever had is 15,” said Walter Johnson. “That was the class year. A lot of those guys are still together.”
Tyler Bare and Dustin Crago were part of that record-breaking recruitment. The two joined the Millville junior program in 2001. “You get to see a lot of stuff,” said Crago. “Sometimes it gets to you.”
“You really have to take it as it comes,” said Bare.
Crago and Bare have both been in the Marine Corps for several years now. “All the training I had here has really helped me out in the Marines,” said Crago. “Every time I come home on leave, I’m always at the firehouse. It’s all one big family.”
“A lot of us start young, going through the junior company,” added Bare. “You really get to know the people you’re around. It’s a great opportunity and I’m glad I did it.”
The Frankford VFC may have the smallest collection of junior recruits, but Murray is not discouraged. “We have three junior members, and that’s just about how many we have on the books at any time. A few of them will move up to the senior company and by that time, we’ll get a couple more junior members.”
He stressed the importance about being active with the younger people in the community. “What we’ve noticed is that by the time they get out of high school, they’re either gone off to college or they’re starting their career. By the time they’re in their 20’s, they’re looking at getting engaged, possibly marriage, or starting a family. Once they get into that point, they have so many other commitments in their life that it’s very difficult for somebody to give up two or three weekends in a row to go to training.
“So really, getting them at a high-school level is a great time in their life to attend that additional training and establishing the camaraderie that you would get from working with the company,” he said.