Unless something changes soon, the Starbrick Volunteer Fire Department may have to go out of business.
“We have been meeting with our firefighters to discuss fires and EMS for the slums for about six months,” Said Conewango Township Superintendent, Jeff Zariczny. “We are trying to make this sustainable for the municipality.”
During that time, the department took care of itself and continued to survive.
That changed this week.
There is a city inspector meeting on Monday, a fire department meeting on Tuesday, and an EMS meeting on Wednesday. On Wednesday, department officials told inspectors they considered the situation untenable.
Like volunteer departments anywhere, Starbrick had a hard time finding and retaining people.
“We lost personnel,” Zariczny said.
“I just can’t maintain a workforce,” said Foust.
The situation has worsened recently, with five or six volunteers handling all the department’s firefighting and EMS work and a few more volunteers working in administration.
“It really is a handful of people wearing many hats,” said Department Treasurer Hollie Foust. “There are some very dedicated volunteers in every department. They are tired.”
Kirk Foust has been chief for 20 of his 36 years in the department. He is also the president of the department and serves on the supervisory board.
The difficulties the department is facing are not financial.
The department did well financially in 2022. Its ambulance service generates revenue and has a record number of calls – 462. A year is typically closer to 180 calls, said Chief Kirk Foust. When other departments discontinue their ambulance services, or are unable to handle multiple calls due to personnel issues of their own, Starbrick takes over.
The township couldn’t afford the fire department. Zariczny said inspectors were considering providing some incentives to those serving.
Conewango Township Police Officer Charlie Andersen said firefighters were critical in assisting the department in a variety of situations and ways. He describes volunteer service as “without ulterior motives” And “nobleman” and deserves recognition.
There are two volunteer fire departments in Conewango Township — Starbrick and North Warren. They are separated by 5 miles and are centered on populations east and north of Warren City, respectively. They also work closely together, Foust said.
North Warren’s membership was also dwindling, but it had not yet reached the critical level Starbrick was facing. “We are not in the same predicament,” Said Chief Shawn Jones.
CITY HALL MEETING
Townships and departments have scheduled town hall meetings for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, at the Starbrick Volunteer Fire Department, with snacks, in hopes that sharing information will generate interest in serving the community.
“We have labeled, ‘Save Our Fire Department,’” Zariczny said. “We have to involve the community. It was the right thing to do.”
“This is an opportunity for all of us to come together as one,” said Jones.
“I want to focus on what’s happening in our department,” Zariczny said. “Sooner or later, it will affect our quality of life.”
The department will welcome new recruits who are fully trained and able to work, of course. However, it also needed people willing to take training to help serve their community and others who could take on some of the administrative duties of the few members who ran the entire show.
There is no requirement that members live in the settlement. “Most of our volunteers are now outside the township,” said Foust.
“We would love members from anywhere,” Zariczny said.
Foust said an infusion of three new members would be enough to keep the department afloat.
Zariczny said he believes other cities and departments will soon follow Starbrick’s lead in trying to do whatever they can to stay in service. “We want to support all of our volunteers across the district,” he says.
Officials weren’t sure how the meeting — or the future of the department — would play out, but they were hopeful. “At least we tried,” Zariczny said.
They hoped, but were upset that the situation had gotten so bad.
“It’s heartbreaking to have to go down this path,” said Foust.