Who Will Save Us? A three-part investigative report.
Video Introduction: Sounding The Alarm
Part 1: The Volunteer Firefighter Drain
One volunteer’s weekend illustrates the intense pressure, immense time and constant personal sacrifice required to serve.
Part 2: Free Isn’t Without A Hefty Price
Volunteers grapple with funding and consolidation while sitting on tens of millions of dollars in duplicated equipment.
Part 3: We Pay Police & EMS – Why Not Firefighters?
A look at what can be done to substantively address the problems facing local fire departments.
Consider Josh Koulter’s spot on a 34-degree November morning.
He was a bit into the fourth quarter of a 32-hour work marathon, a fair portion of the 80 hours a week he accrues.
Koulter, 34, did the first 24 hours as a full-time medic with Noga Ambulance Services Inc. in New Castle, then headed to the Brighton Township Volunteer Fire Department for the last eight as one of the township’s new part-time paid firefighters.
After this, he looked forward to seeing his three-year-old daughter Scarlett and his wife Heather, 34, and patting the baby girl in her belly due in January.
On Saturday, he’d get to spend a whole blessed day with them and maybe get some rest. Sunday, he’d work daylight at his part-time paid firefighter’s job in Butler City, Butler County, go home for eight, then do another eight overnight on the ambulance. Tuesday, he’d start another 32-hour run.
He seemed almost apologetic as he explained why the volunteer firefighting he’d done since the age of 17 had to stop. Heather works full-time in customer service from their Wayne Township home in Lawrence County. He watches Scarlett while she works. Their parents fill in when necessary.
The newborn will complicate schedules further. Yes, it’s a lot, he said and sort of laughed and shook his head.
But for the moment he was focused on Brighton VFD Fire Chief Mitch Curtaccio. The two sat in the firefighters’ lounge and discussed their own shared newborn: a combination part-time paid and volunteer department, the first in the county and still fairly rare statewide. State officials estimate their number at 52.
This is part of Brighton’s ongoing effort to maintain fire protection. In part, it’s also a recognition of the equally burgeoning crisis in the Emergency Medical Service system as the new employees also must be EMT certified.
Brighton has taken other measures to stem the bleeding of volunteers. They now get either $15 per call or $40 for spending a shift at the fire station, Curtaccio said.