By Greg Argos


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A volunteer group of first responders is still answering the call during the coronavirus epidemic. It’s been a challenge, but they are there and present.

The Philadelphia Second Alarmers has been around for nearly a century. The all-volunteer force helps first responders on emergency scenes.

They’ve seen it all, but this pandemic is not in any playbook.

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“The Second Alarmers were created in 1921,” Chief Gregory Masi said.

The group began when a group of volunteers brought hot coffee to firefighters battling a warehouse blaze along the Delaware River.

“Here we are, now in our 99th year of service,” Masi said.

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Masi says his all-volunteer crew responds to more than 700 calls a year — bringing food, water, supplies and their famous “bug juice” to firefighters and police officers responding to calls throughout Philadelphia.

They were at last summer’s three-alarm church fire in West Philadelphia, the 2013 Salvation Army building collapse in Center City and the Amtrak derailment two years later.

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“We’ve seen just about every type of incident that the city of Philadelphia has had,” Masi said.

But the COVID-19 outbreak has caught even the Second Alarmers off-guard.

(credit: CBS3)

“It’s a worldwide event and it’s creating a lot of issues,” Masi said.

He also says 10 of the 46 volunteers have been asked to stay home since they fall into the at-risk category. But they’re still helping out from a distance.

“Dispatching duties, some are good administrators. We’re giving them some paperwork to do for us,” Masi explained.

New volunteers who have been temporarily furloughed or laid off have filled the spots.

“We’d like to see them get back to work, but it does benefit us and our responders that we have somebody here 24 hours, seven days a week,” Masi added.

With so much unknown right now, first responders can find peace in knowing the Second Alarmers will continue their mission in this uncertain time.

“If this ever happens again in the future, hopefully we’re keeping a template of how city operations, how volunteer services are now running,” Masi said.

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