WINSLOW TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — As it faces a shortage of volunteer firefighters, the Winslow Township Fire Department said Wednesday it’s closing its Cedar Brook station and reassigning firefighters to other stations.
Chief Marc Rigberg said the department, which has both career and volunteer firefighters, will still have its administrative offices and training operations onsite, and he hopes the station will eventually reopen.READ MORE: Philadelphia's Gun Violence Epidemic Continues To Have Devastating Impact On City's Youth
However, Rigberg said he and other fire chiefs are struggling to attract volunteers due to the position’s time commitment.
“The high level of training that’s required, the certifications that are now required as well as life and social commitments, family, working multiple jobs, trying to make ends meet,” Rigberg said. “We are fortunate with the wonderful volunteers that we do have. Just unfortunately, those numbers are declining.”
The National Fire Protection Association reported in 1986, more than 808,200 people in the United States volunteered as firefighters, but in 2019, the number dropped to 722,800 volunteers, which is the second lowest total in the survey’s history.
Rigberg said the shortage is happening as Winslow Township’s firefighters face higher call volumes.READ MORE: Here Is Where The Pennsylvania Primary Race For The Senate Seat Stands
Adam Walton lives next to the fire station and has noticed the spike in calls.
“This area, just in the last couple weeks, there has been a lot of activity, between car accidents, motorcycle accidents. There’s been fires,” Walton said. “I think we need to do what we can to keep them here.”
Winston Township’s firefighters responded to Thomas Jhinis’ house over the weekend after his house caught fire.
“If it weren’t for them guys, we wouldn’t even have anything behind us. It would’ve been just cinders,” Jhinis said. “Knowing that they’re not there anymore is terrifying because you never, ever know when this is going to happen.”
Rigberg doesn’t expect response times to get longer, and he said they changed their policies to allow for out-of-town departments to provide mutual aid during major incidents.MORE NEWS: Recent Coastal Storm Uncovers Historic 'Ghost Tracks' On Higbee Beach In Cape May, And It's Not 1st Time
“We deal with crisis management on a daily basis, and this is just becoming another normal part of that, unfortunately,” Rigberg said. “The problem will certainly get more significant as time increases so we’re going to have to work through that through other means. maybe the state or county could provide some incentives to retain volunteers”