Volunteer firefighter shortage forces changes to Harford Co. station

EDGEWOOD, Md. (WMAR) - It has set off alarms for Harford County residents: a fire station without firefighters.

The Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company responds to an average of 10-20 calls a day, from three stations, but changes are coming. Firefighters will no longer be based out of the Trimble Road Station. 

"We decided to move the personnel out to the other stations to staff the other firehouses," Chief Bill VanArsdale said. 

The 18 members were moved to either the Old Mountain Road and Hanson Road stations for more efficient emergency responses. Trimble Road will still house equipment. 

It's all because of a volunteer shortage. JMVFC has 32 active members but ideally, they would have double to be able to fill every seat of the trucks for every call. They aren't alone in this problem. 

"Over the last 20 years, there’s been a steady decrease in the number of volunteers available to answer calls, not just in Harford County but in Maryland and across the country," Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford Co. Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said. "It’s a lack of manpower."

That's because everyone is trying to tap into the same niche group that has the time to dedicate to the calls and the training. County EMS has already moved to a paid structure because of it. 

VanArsdale says the change in Joppatowne will not affect service. Every call is still being answered, just by a different station. The affect instead is felt by the firefighters, who are responding to more and more calls with less people. 

"Call volume is expanding and yet our volunteer base is not expanding," Gardiner said. 

"It’s like a beat down. You work a long 12-hour shift at work and you’re out in the rain and everything else, well we are doing it 24 hours a day," VanArsdale said. 

On top of recruitment in retaining them, when, as Gardiner acknowledges, they could be doing other things. 

"If I'm at home with my kids, I need to go to the lacrosse tournament, baseball tournament. My wife wants to spend time together. She wants to go somewhere but I need to go to the firehouse. What if I work two jobs? How do I balance that and volunteering?" Gardiner said. 

Departments are working to help volunteers with the transition and make the job more attractive. For example, the Hanson Road station is planning to start expanding in the next few months, adding a bigger and better living space. 

"To hopefully draw some more people to encourage them to be here," VanArsdale said. 

At its core though, it's not about incentives for VanArsdale. It's about giving back to his community. 

"It’s rewarding knowing that you went out and helped someone in a car wreck or house fire of something like that," VanArsdale said. 

JMVFC covers all of Joppa and parts of Edgewood, Kingsville and Fallston. They offer free training, retirement benefits, educational incentives and tax breaks for volunteers. 

For information about applying to JMVFC, click here.

For information about applying to the association, click here.

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