BERLIN CENTER, Ohio (WKBN) – For 23 years, the Berlin Township Fire Department has held their annual chicken dinner fundraiser.
The money raised from Saturday’s event will go toward the town’s firefighter association fund, which pays for everything from equipment and trucks to training and certifications for the volunteers.
Berlin Township is served by about two dozen men and women volunteer firefighters who people depend on to be their first line of defense for many types of emergencies, not just fires.
“We have about 23 volunteers right now and they do a wonderful job, but we’re always looking to add people to the department,” said Sam Barnhouse, one of the firefighters.
Like most volunteer departments across the nation, the Berlin Township Fire Department has seen a decline in the help they desperately need.
“You have to like the job to do it. Your normal basic training is 140 hours plus all the training that you do. We train every week, every Monday night for two hours and it goes on and on. You have to have a continuing education,” said Chief Rick Pebble.
The number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by about 12 percent since 1984.
“It’s really rough, usually during the daytime you don’t have many people, so you’re relying on the other communities to help with their volunteers,” Pebble said.
Most fire departments across the country have experienced a steady increase in calls over the past two decades, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. So, the fire departments have to do more with less.
“The worst part of it is the time that’s involved in the schooling and the training they have to do. A lot of it is too much for them. It’s tough to keep volunteers,” Pebble said.
While the number of volunteer firefighters is declining nationwide, the average age of volunteers is increasing.
But for many, the fire service has defined a path and bridged generations together.
“My mom’s dad was the fire chief here, then my dad was part of the department, my brother, myself and my brother-in-law. It’s kind of a family affair,” Barnhouse said.
The fire department is hoping to raise about $2,000 from the fundraiser.