COVID-19 Outbreak Poses Unique Challenge to Volunteer Fire Service. How We Can Help.
by Bruce Trego, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner
It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has affected each of our lives in its own way. Fire service personnel are among the many disciplines of first responders helping our communities cope with the threats of this outbreak. Many have lost jobs, other sources of income and are, no doubt, very familiar with the financial impacts of the prolonged and necessary government response. It’s no different for volunteer first services, which depend on the financial support of their communities to provide life-saving services.
Simply put, the commonwealth depends on volunteer fire departments to protect lives and property each and every day. Approximately 97% of the departments currently operating in Pennsylvania are entirely volunteer based or have some component of volunteer staffing. To finance their operations, volunteer fire companies hold fundraisers – carnivals, breakfasts, dinners, and BBQs are the lifeblood that pay the mortgages, utilities, and loan bills for volunteer departments.
If a generous contribution in support of your local fire department is not a viable option, and for many it is not, please consider a few suggestions on how to pitch in and help.
Seasonal fire safety tips like these, can help reduce the number of calls our fire companies are responding to:
• Remove dead leaves and other flammable debris from around foundations and from under decks, porches or stairs.
• Outdoor work areas such as garages and tool sheds should be kept organized, and flammable materials should be stored in fire-rated containers away from children.
• Grills should be checked for rust, insects, spiders, grease and other debris before use.
• Worn gas hoses should be replaced.
• Never grill indoors, in a garage, breezeway or carport. Grills should only be used 10 feet away from your house or any building.
With many individuals now working from home, fire safety there is a topic worth noting:
• If you need to run extension cords for office equipment or laptops, do so safely. Do not overload outlets, and do not run cords under carpets, sofas, or through high traffic areas. If a cord is frayed or cracked, discard it.
• Unplug computers, phones, printers, coffee pots, when finished.
• Avoid working out of your kitchen, cooking during work hours or during conference calls. Cooking is the leading cause of house fires in the United States, and distractions are a leading cause of these incidents.
• If unwinding with candles after a long day, consider using flameless candles.
• Take the time to test your smoke alarms and plan/practice your escape.
Lastly, I know that as we spend more of our time at home now, it might be tempting to want to take on a “do it yourself” home improvement project. Please understand that DIY projects often lead to injuries with a call to the fire department for emergency medical services. If you must take on a DIY project, please use the proper protective equipment for the task at hand.
By working together and limiting our use of the services our volunteer fire departments provide, we will get through this public health crisis. In the meantime, the Small Business Association/federal government have several financial incentive programs that extend to volunteer departments.
While the Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner and State Fire Academy facilities are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our staff continues to work hard to ensure the impact of this crisis is minimal. We are doing our best to provide continued customer service during this time.