Bucks County Herald

Upper Makefield sees positive response to firefighter offer

CHRIS RUVO

Preliminary results suggest that a new program for volunteer firefighters in Upper Makefield is beginning to have some positive impact on the local department, according to fire and township officials.

Established for the first time this year by Upper Makefield’s board of supervisors, the program sets aside township funds to be allocated as quarterly stipends to volunteers with the Upper Makefield Fire Company, a volunteer-run-and-operated nonprofit.

The monetary amounts a firefighter can earn are based on his or her participation in emergency calls and training exercises each quarter.

The stipends aim to be a modicum of compensation for the time and expense the volunteers put into responding and drilling. Officials have also hoped that the stipends will help recruit and retain new members, and increase turnout on calls.

While the program has only begun this year, it appears to be starting to help achieve some of those goals, officials said.

Upper Makefield Fire Chief Tim Brewer said that the potential to earn stipends was one of a number of factors that helped with enlisting this year a handful of young recruits, who were especially active during the summer.

The prospect of stipends was also a factor in helping generate a year-over-year increase in the number of firefighters who typically responded to calls during the year’s second quarter, said officials.

“So far, the stipend program is having a positive effect,” said Fire Company President Bart Krauss. “Even getting one guy extra on a call can make a big difference for us.”

Supervisor Diana Nolan was encouraged by the early results. “I’m glad to see it’s making a difference,” Nolan said at a recent supervisors meeting.

Still, both Brewer and Krauss cautioned against jumping too far ahead.

They said it’s not uncommon for call turnout to fluctuate throughout the year. They also said they’d like to get at least a year’s worth of comparative data on things like call turnout to make a more informed pronouncement on the efficacy of the stipend program and its potential viability to bolster the department over the long haul.

“I’ve got to give the stipend program credit, but we need to see how it goes over a longer period of time,” said Brewer. “Our goal is to get a consistent, steadier response.”

Volunteer fire departments across Pennsylvania, including Bucks County, have found it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain members. Getting active volunteers to respond consistently to calls is proving more challenging, too.

The stipend program is one tactic Upper Makefield fire and township officials are trying to counteract such troubling trends. Another is that public works employees who are qualified firefighters are able to respond to calls when not snowplowing or paving, Krauss said.

Upper Makefield supervisors have budgeted $95,000 this year for covering the stipends – a tally that, officials have noted, is vastly less than the cost of funding a department of full-time paid firefighters. For the first quarter, supervisors approved granting $12,730 to the fire company to be allocated to firefighters based on their service.




www.buckscountyherald.com

Copyright ©2018 Bucks County Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.