Township fire department wants to recruit volunteers

Programs offered include Fire Explorers for the young

Members of the Washington Township Fire Department pose for a photo.

The Washington Township Fire Department wants to recruit volunteer firefighters 14 and up. 

“Anyone who is interested in the fire service is more than welcome to apply with our agency,” said fire Chief Pat Dolgos. “We are one of the largest departments in the region and we offer a lot of incentives to our volunteers.”

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The department offers different options and opportunities when it comes to volunteering. The youngest volunteers can start the Fire Explorers program at 14. Offered through the Boy Scouts, it gives teens the ability to educate themselves on the skills and assets they will need to become volunteer firefighters at 18.

“We have been very successful in that they learn a lot of things, and when they turn 18, they can cross over and become a full member with our department,” Dolgos said. “They will have a lot of educational requirements behind them in order for them to enroll.”

Another option for aspiring firefighters is to take career classes offered at Washington Township High School through the Gloucester County Institute of Technology. The “fire track”’ course, for instance, offers education in incident management and firefighter class-one certifications and credits. The courses give volunteers the background they need to move into a firefighter career right after graduation. 

“This is a great program and we have had quite a few of our members go through that and have now been full-fledged firefighters for years,” Dolgos noted.

Recruits can volunteer from the age of 18 even without starting high school or going through the Fire Explorers program. Anyone who wants to volunteer must go through a background check and get physical clearance. The recruit then has a full year to complete firefighter class one training and 200 hours of firefighter training, all of which the district pays for and is free to the recruit. The district will also provide personal protective equipment during training.

“The training requirements are much stricter,” Dolgos explained. “It’s a huge commitment on the part of the individual. We stress that you have to be committed and dedicated to get training done.”

Although COVID-19 slowed the recruiting and training process, fire academies have been allowed to open along with other training programs that have opened under proper precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing. 

Those interested in being involved but without the time to volunteer as a full member of the firefighting team have other options. The department welcomes anyone interested in an administrative volunteer position,  including in human resources and nutrition and fitness programs. That  allows recruits the opportunity to get involved in the department by using a different skill set to benefit other fire district programs.  

“This is something we recreated recently, which allows other members of the community to help the department out,” Dolgos said.

Other opportunities for active volunteer firefighters include participation as ranking members of the department on either the career or volunteer side. All volunteer members are looked at first to determine who can fill ranking positions.

“Based on years of experience, their involvement, their educational levels, they are eligible to move up into various ranks in the department,” the fire chief said. “All of the career firefighters we have have all come through the volunteer ranks.”

The department also offers ride-alongs to anyone unsure about volunteering; they can be scheduled anytime and can give interested parties the opportunity to experience a day in the life of a township firefighter. All ride-alongs have proper precautions to prevent the spread of COVID.

The department has six stations with about 83 members and 11 Fire Explorers. The stations cover around 23 square miles, along with 14 miles of the Atlantic City Expressway and Route 42.

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