SERVICE SPOTLIGHT: Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Company

Near the end of Echo Lake Road sits a building colored in a soft yellow occupying a small plot in our widereaching community. This building is where local heroes gather to practice drills and train for common and unpredictable fire-related emergencies. It’s where a family of Coolbaugh Township volunteer firefighters begin their service to our community.

Within the Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Company, it is rare to find a member who plays a solitary role. To name a few, George Dobson is the newly elected chief and purchasing agent of the Relief Association Board; Tomas Keane and Steve Baker serve as assistant chiefs, and Keane is the president of the Fire Company Board, while Baker is a trustee and serves as the president of the Relief Association; Kelly Wiemer is a fire lieutenant, Relief Association board member, and Fire Company Board trustee. Through regularly scheduled drills, training coordinators Christopher Ambrogio and William Weimer Jr., who is also a captain and the treasurer of both the Fire Company and Relief Association, prepare the team to answer these emergency calls.

Additionally, the junior volunteers are an ambitious group of students. A few of them are legacy volunteer firefighters, and some of them aspire to join the United States Armed Forces or become paid firefighters as they near the end of their secondary education. It’s not easy to manage attending school, participating in extracurriculars, and fulfilling responsibilities at home while being a volunteer firefighter, but the juniors excel in every aspect.

Since education is a priority, the CTVFC requires the juniors to maintain excellent grades to remain volunteers at the end of each marking period. Likewise, their roles as juniors are restricted but are of the utmost importance for helping the senior firefighters prepare for emergency calls. This includes evaluating, organizing and preparing the fire truck’s equipment inventory for each emergency call. The juniors are motivated to respond when duty calls because of their passion for helping others. From their experience in the field, they have learned an important life lesson: Never take anything for granted as it could instantly be gone.

Funding needs to come from several sources to keep the trucks, equipment and facilities in top shape. Stipends from the municipality help pay for the station’s utilities, and legislative grants help upgrade the facilities. One crucial renovation was the warming station/meeting room, which now includes new ADA-compliant bathrooms and a monitor-controlled HVAC system.

Over the years, the firefighters have initiated independent funding sources by holding rummage sales to sell a plethora of non-perishable items donated by local distributors. During the 2020 and 2021 sales, the firefighters raised about $100,000, which goes directly toward the costs of building a new firehouse. The materials not sold are donated to nearby fire companies and nonprofit organizations. Independent funding can also be collected from ticket sales of a spaghetti dinner or from letter requests mailed to residents and commercial businesses. The fire company said it also plans to rent out its modern warming station to gain additional funding.

On top of the simultaneous roles, these volunteer firefighters are also active members of the community, participating in fire-prevention programs with local organizations, schools and older residents to install and check smoke alarms.

But as volunteer firefighters, the work doesn’t end here. The company has at least 40 active volunteer firefighters, and many are constrained by the amount of time they can give. For instance, during 2021, the volunteers responded to 542 calls, and in January 2022, they’ve already established a record with 63 answered calls!

Even when duty calls, volunteers are 24/7 spouses and parents who hold other full-time jobs to provide for their families. The weight of prioritizing these roles can make it difficult for members to recruit and retain volunteers, who are expected to respond to 50 calls to remain an active member of the fire company. Volunteer recruiters have devised creative avenues of gaining new members, such as impressive skill demonstrations like cutting up a car or the “Cleaning the Fire Hydrant” campaign during the wintertime, which rewards individuals who have removed snow from a covered fire hydrant.

These recruitment efforts have drawn volunteers who have become a part of this self-described “dysfunctional family” of firefighters. Being a Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Firefighter is rigorous but rewarding, and, as Keane says, “It doesn’t cost anything except your time, but you can’t put a price on it.”

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