Upper Providence — Flames and smoke leaped from the engine compartment of a 2008 grey Chevrolet Silverado parked on the parking lot of an apartment complex on Meadowview Lane in Upper Providence Township shortly after noon on a recent Friday.
Six minutes after the alarm was sounded, a fire engine — which had been stationed at the Upper Providence Township administration building on Black Rock Road — arrived on scene. The vehicle was staffed not by volunteer firefighters, but by the township’s code enforcement and public works employees, all of whom are trained in firefighting techniques. Moments later, the township engine was joined by firefighting apparatus from the Black Rock Fire Co.
Through the combined efforts of the township employees and the volunteer firefighter, the car fire was extinguished in 20 minutes.
“My hat goes off to Upper Providence Township for coming up with a program to supplement the volunteer fire companies during the daytime hours,” declared James Callahan, assistant chief of the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Co. “Thanks to the program, which has been in effect for five years, residents of Upper Providence Township enjoy the benefits of fire protection during those hours of the day when typically volunteers are in short supply. And, because the supplemental firefighters are township employees, the township doesn’t incur the further expense of hiring paid firefighters.”
Callahan cited his own personal experience as an example of how the situation with volunteer firefighters has changed in recent years.
“I used to be able to respond to daytime emergencies,” he explained, “because my place of employment was in the immediate area. Today, however, I work outside the area and it’s no longer possible for me to respond.”
Even firefighters who work in the area can’t always respond, he noted.
“Years ago, employers allowed volunteer firefighters to leave work to respond to fire calls. That’s not always true today, and this has become a serious staffing issue for all volunteer fire companies.”
The township’s 2007 Pierce fire engine is housed on the grounds of the township administration building. Because of its central location and the ability of employees to respond to calls at a moment’s notice, they can arrive in some parts of the township in as little as five minutes — often ahead of Black Rock FC and other volunteer fire companies, Callahan pointed out.
“We’re the only township in the county that has this unique way of supplementing the efforts of our volunteer firefighters,” said Joshua Overholt, fire marshal of Upper Providence Township, Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
The township’s fire engine is on call from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and responds to approximately 120 calls annually.