Bellaire Fire Chief Bill Swoyer is right to be pleased with the first day of his volunteer department's existence. When the department took over fire protection duties for Bellaire on Thursday, it already had 20 members.
"We're starting out better than most departments finish," Swoyer said. He was alluding to problems many volunteer fire units have in attracting and keeping enough men and women to provide effective fire protection.
For several years, the village was served by the Neffs Fire Department. But several weeks ago, Bellaire officials decided to terminate their $75,000-a-year contract with the Neffs unit. Instead, fire protection will be handled by a volunteer fire company based in Bellaire, as was the case for many years.
Except for a few problems with equipment, the changeover from Neffs FD control to operations by the Bellaire volunteers went smoothly. That was only because 20 men volunteered for the department, with most of them completing state-required training quickly.
Those 20 volunteers deserve high praise. They have agreed to take on challenging responsibilities in order to serve their neighbors in Bellaire.
For generations, volunteer departments were the backbone of fire protection in East Ohio and the Northern Panhandle. But times change. State and federal regulations, some costly, have forced a few volunteer units to disband.
Lack of volunteers has been a worse problem, however. It is not as easy to qualify as a volunteer firefighter as once was the case. And the responsibility carries with it a commitment to many hours of service - and yes, to encountering some risk.
Again, those 20 volunteers in Bellaire have earned high praise. But the department will require a steady stream of new volunteers if it is to remain effective. So, if you are a man or woman interested in a unique type of service to the public, we encourage you to contact Swoyer about volunteering.