If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at your local fire company but figured there wasn’t a way to help as an older adult, think again.
Coming on the heels of a targeted mailing to empty nesters, the Chester County Fire Chiefs Association is calling on these same residents to use some of their new free time filling much-needed volunteer roles at their local fire company.
Volunteering at the fire station offers many ways to make a difference, including some that don’t require you to fight fires at all. From directing traffic, crowds and protecting the public as a member of the fire police, to educating the community and coordinating events and fundraisers as an administrative volunteer, or performing other duties around the fire station, there’s a role for every age and level of experience.
Empty nesters eager to learn more can visit HelpFightFire.com.
“If you don’t want to fight fires, there are still plenty of ways you can help,” said Neil Vaughn, head of recruitment for the Chester County Fire Chiefs Association. "Plus it’s a great way to learn new skills, make friends and help the community."
The following three Chester County volunteers described their experiences at their local fire stations, and prove that anyone, at any age, can find a way to help.
An Opportunity for Everyone
Donald Taylor has seen first-hand how volunteer fire companies in Chester County have changed over the last half century.
Taylor, 63, has been a firefighter for 50 years. In 1969, at 14 years old, he joined the Modena Fire Company as a junior firefighter. He served there until 1977, when he became a volunteer at Thorndale Fire Company. He’s still there today, currently serving as the deputy fire chief.
Fire stations, he said, used to be filled with volunteers when he first started. Serving was something passed down from generation to generation in his family. In fact, his wife and their two sons are each volunteers.
Today that’s not always the case. With two parents typically working in a household, it’s much harder for people to volunteer their time. “They have children; they have lives,” said Taylor. “And what it takes to really be a volunteer and the dedication is tough because of work assignments.”
Yet there are still ways for community members to serve their fire station as volunteers that do not require going into a burning building or responding to an emergency. Older adults who have more free time can use their experience to help keep a fire company running as an administrative volunteer, for example.
“What keeps a fire company going are people today who have computer experience, financial experience that can help from a business perspective,” said Taylor. “Because even though it says volunteer over the door, this is still a business. It has to be run as such. We have monetary obligations. We have commitments to our township supervisors, to our township leaders and to our residents. If we can’t keep the doors open and keep the trucks on the street, then we’re not here to help them.”
Offering up skills from work experience to your local fire company helps save lives, said Taylor.
“It’s about helping your fellow neighbor, your resident, your family members, someone you’ve never met,” he said. “It’s not running into a burning building. It’s about anything you can do to help.”
It’s a Wonderful Feeling to Help Others
Linda Gramling, 74, has been a volunteer in Chester County for 45 years. As a nurse, she has never shied away from helping people in need. In fact, for 20 years she ran as a medic with the Uwchlan Ambulance Company.
In 1973, around the time she first started volunteering, her late husband, Joseph “Joel” Gramling, also began his volunteer service as a firefighter for Lionville Fire Company. Because they were both on call to serve around the clock, it meant they didn’t see each other very often. Gramling said to change that, she decided to become a volunteer firefighter too.
So the two served for years together as firefighters, before eventually switching to serve as fire police officers as time went on. Joel eventually went on to become a fire police captain for Lionville and was a past company president and secretary before he passed away in February.
Gramling is a fire police captain now and enjoys being there for others. “It’s just very gratifying to know that you’re helping someone in a difficult situation,” she said. “Accident situations are very stressful for anybody. And it’s just nice to know that you’re able to help somebody in a difficult time.”
Those on the fence about becoming a volunteer don’t know what they’re missing, she said.
“Some people say I couldn’t do what you do. Well there’s a lot of things that you can do that don’t include necessarily seeing things you don’t want to see on the street. Just give it a try. If it’s not for you, you’ll know. But if it is, there’s a lot of wonderful feelings you get from helping people.”
A Way to Give Back
As a volunteer social member at Thorndale Fire Company, Sandy Mohr said the least she can do to thank the brave men and women who risk their lives saving others is to find ways to support them.
Social members like Mohr, 53, help the fire company by planning and volunteering at community events, holding fundraisers and raising awareness in the community of the needs of fire stations.
“As volunteers, they need the money and support of the community,” said Mohr. “They give their lives. So we make community members know, ‘hey, if there’s anything that you can do to help out, a penny, a nickel, a dime or just your presence to help serve or clean up or whatever they need, we’re here to help.’”
There were several reasons why she decided to become a volunteer. For starters, her husband, Sam, is an emergency room nurse, and a volunteer EMT and also volunteered as a firefighter with Washington Hose Company No.1 for many years.
“So I married into it,” she said. The couple’s two adult children are also volunteers. “My kids follow into it. I follow into it. And I do whatever I can.”
In addition, Mohr has been a veteran’s advocate for 24 years with the Chester County Veterans’ Affairs office. Her work there helped her understand what it meant for a community to respond to a crisis. It also added to her desire to give back to others who respond to crisis on a daily basis.
“It’s just my privilege and pleasure to be here,” she said. “I’m thankful. I’m glad to do it.”
Becoming a volunteer at your local Chester County fire station is a great way to serve the community and there are opportunities that are perfect for any age. From administrative volunteers and fire police officers, EMTs and firefighters, there’s a place for you to serve. Learn more by going to HelpFightFire.com. Volunteer today. Chester County lives depend on it.