Our View: Volunteer firefighters worth their weight in gold

Tanker trucks are shown stationed at the rear of Northwest Area Middle/High School in Union Township during a two-alarm fire Aug. 18. The blaze drew a big response from volunteers. - Bill Tarutis | For Times Leader

We take it for granted they will be there when there’s an emergency.

And we just assume those sirens will always blare and trucks will rush down the street when someone needs help.

But we should quickly get out of that habit.

The men and women who provide the backbone of our local fire services deserve our appreciation and our help, whether that be via an occasional monetary donation, a pat on the back for a job well done, or just the simple act of saying “Thank you.”

To all those out there who are on call 24/7, consider what follows our way of saying thanks.

Specifically, we are talking about those hearty, well-meaning, community-driven souls who serve as volunteer firefighters.

Paid fire personnel do a great service, too. But they are getting a check every week for their heroism.

The volunteers who do it also have full-time jobs and families, but they still somehow don’t miss a beat.

And we rely tremendously on these folks. The National Fire Department Registry says there are 1,788 registered departments in Pennsylvania. Of them, a tad over 90 percent are volunteer units and almost 7 percent are mostly volunteer.

So you get the picture. Unless you live in a metropolitan area, the guy or gal coming to put the flames out and save the block is likely not receiving a dime to risk life and limb. Their service is based purely on a sense of purpose and a genuine concern for the well-being of others.

Two fine examples of this altruism showed up in our pages recently.

First, you might have read our story Sunday about longtime Nuangola Fire Chief Tony Wilczynski, who died last week at age 75. A county 911 staffer was brought to tears while reading the chief’s “last call” over the emergency broadcast radiowaves.

Wilczynski served more than 45 years, gaining the respect of seemingly everyone he encountered as he passionately contributed to his department.

“We learned a lot from him,” said firefighter Eric Boyer. “He was always there.”

And thank goodness people like Wilczynski are “always there,” or else there would’ve been even more damage to Northwest Area Middle/High School two Saturdays ago.

On a nice late summer afternoon, a blaze broke out on the second floor of the school. Volunteers, who surely could’ve been home relaxing with their families or doing something fun, turned out in droves to avert a real disaster. About 75 firefighters in all helped save the building, and it appeared they were all from volunteer outfits.

Just amazing we have so many of these fine individuals willing to sacrifice so much, including their free time on weekends.

They are worthy of our praise and our help.

At the very least, when your local fire company is holding its annual bazaar, selling raffle tickets, or trying to raise funds in some other way, make sure you give what you can. It’s estimated that without volunteer firefighters, Pennsylvania taxpayers would pay about $10 billion annually to replace them with paid personnel, according to a 2017 Philly.com story. (That’s right, “b” as in “billion!”)

And for those of us who are physically capable enough and able to make the time commitment, we would encourage you to volunteer in any way you can to help reverse the steady decline in the volunteer ranks. Remember, you don’t have to go in to buildings with hoses and put out flames. You could help in a variety of other ways as well.

Big kudos to our volunteers today and every day! Like they said about Chief Wilczynski, you have our “utmost respect and deepest gratitude.”

— Times Leader

Tanker trucks are shown stationed at the rear of Northwest Area Middle/High School in Union Township during a two-alarm fire Aug. 18. The blaze drew a big response from volunteers.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_TTL081918NorthwestFire_3-4.jpgTanker trucks are shown stationed at the rear of Northwest Area Middle/High School in Union Township during a two-alarm fire Aug. 18. The blaze drew a big response from volunteers. Bill Tarutis | For Times Leader