Members of the Indian Mills Volunteer Fire Company were honored for their service and dedication to the township as they urged residents to get involved and help.
At the Sept. 3 meeting, Mayor Michael Di Croce honored Fire Chief John Smith and President Charlie Burgin of the fire company and Chief Michele Wells of Shamong EMS, a division of Indian Mills, with a proclamation.
Following the proclamation, Smith, who’s been a member of the company for 55 years, said the biggest problem for both organizations is the lack of volunteers.
“One of the problems being an EMT is you’d have to take one or two nights a week and a Saturday for the next six months for the class and complete 250 hours,” Smith said. “It costs $2,000 to be an EMT.”
He added Shamong isn’t the only municipality facing a shortage as volunteer organizations, in general, are seeking more volunteers. As it relates to EMS and fire service, Smith said when the company is answering a call, there are often multiple other outside companies assisting with a call.
“You need 20 people to fight a house fire, and the only way we get them is to call for more companies,” Smith said. “That’s the name of the game nowadays.”
Burgin, who’s been a member for 47 years, said the fire company is looking for anyone who owns a home in the township, is married and is over the age of 18. Those who go through the training in Shamong, he added, will often leave the company for other opportunities.
To become certified, a person must complete roughly 200 hours of training, inside and outside of a classroom, and it costs around $60. Smith said the company can sponsor people.
Smith said the company has various other jobs people can apply or volunteer for that do not require a certification.
He added if the company keeps losing volunteers, it will be forced to go to a paid operation, which would cause taxes to go up significantly in the township.
“Firefighters need four people on a truck,” Burgin said. “You have four people, then you need three shifts, so now you have 12 people and you need a supervisor. You need 15 people for a fire.”
EMS requires two technicians to get a vehicle on the streets, and needs to have three shifts to rotate. Smith said costs for those people is in the millions just in payroll, and is difficult for a township like Shamong to do that.
Smith offered the solution of when the township seeks employees, that it also inquire if they are certified to be either an EMT or a firefighter, and the township would cover their insurance while they help with the company part time.
“Doing the math, it would be about $168,000 a year for two people with no benefits at $15 an hour,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of money because they work 10 hours a day. You’re dealing with 50-hour weeks with 10 being overtime.”
The company often works with Boy and Girl Scouts, but is eyeing those in high school as there’s a junior firefighter program for 16 to 18 year old residents that follows child labor laws.
He hopes the county will look into putting in substations around the county to help areas that have a sharp decline in volunteers, and subsidize some of the costs.
Other than manpower, Smith said the company wants legible house numbers on both sides of mailboxes and all homes and buildings. The department, he added, needs to access driveways and urges people to keep dead waste away from homes to prevent a fire from starting or spreading.
The firehouse will have an information session during Fire Prevention Week on Oct. 10 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For the township, Burgin and Smith said they’ll need help to purchase 17 Scott-Paks (devices that helps firefighters breathe easily while fighting a fire), which cost around $6,000 each, they estimated.
Smith said the department would like to have a connection point to the water irrigation system at the Dingletown Ball Fields. The connection, he said, would help the department avoid contamination (moss and brush) and no access issues.
The department is also looking to purchase a new engine in the near future, and Smith said they’d like for the township to assist with it.
“The good side of being in the country is that it’s great living out here, we just need to get over this hump and get some members,” Smith said.