Lawrence Township fire study recommendations include recruitment, youth academy efforts

Lawrenceville Fire CompanyLEA KAHN/STAFF
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Lawrenceville Fire CompanyLEA KAHN/STAFF

Creating a combination volunteer/career fire department with a full-time career chief in place of the three volunteer fire companies, each with its own fire chief.

Setting up a formal volunteer recruitment program and coming up with measures to encourage the volunteer firefighters to stay involved.

Establishing a one-week-long youth fire academy – similar to youth police academies – to pique children’s interest in becoming volunteer firefighters.

Those are among the 38 recommendations outlined in a 171-page report prepared by The Rodgers Group consulting firm. Lawrence Township officials commissioned the study to get a better sense of the township’s fire operations and how to improve them.

Since Lawrence Township’s first volunteer fire company, the Slackwood Fire Company, was established in 1907, township residents have relied on volunteer firefighters to put out fires. The Lawrence Road Fire Company and the Lawrenceville Fire Company were organized later.

Lawrence Township eventually hired a handful of career firefighters – initially to drive the fire trucks after the volunteer firefighters arrived at the fire station – and later to complete a full firefighter crew.

Now, Lawrence Township has five full-time career firefighters who work weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., except holidays. Volunteer firefighters from the Slackwood, Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville fire companies answer calls at night, on the weekends and on holidays.

With The Rodgers Group fire study in hand, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski and Emergency Management Coordinator Jack Oakley are reviewing the document. Four of the 38 recommendations have been implemented, and others are being reviewed, Nerwinski said.

Those four recommendations involve firefighter training, expanding mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns, and inspecting commercial and industrial buildings so firefighters will be familiar with the buildings when they respond to a call.

Creating a combination volunteer/career Lawrence Township Fire Department is one of the 34 recommendations under review by Nerwinski and Oakley. The Rodgers Group report recommends having the combination department headed by a full-time career fire chief.

“The benefits of a single organization include standardized apparatus (fire trucks) and equipment, training and procedures and importantly, a single command structure,” the report said.

A combination volunteer and career firefighter department will provide the opportunity for greater volunteer and career firefighter interaction, the report said.

Acknowledging the history and traditions of the Slackwood, Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville volunteer fire companies, “the important legacy of the three volunteer fire companies could be preserved by retaining each as a social organization,” the report said.

To attract potential volunteers, The Rodgers Group report recommended hiring a professional recruiter to develop a volunteer firefighter recruitment program. A single department-wide application, approval and orientation process also was recommended.

Social media, such as Facebook, also could play a role in recruitment. The three volunteer fire companies each have their own website, and recruitment information could be included on the home page. The Lawrence Township municipal website also could include recruitment information, The Rodgers Group report suggested.

Also, a one-week-long youth fire academy could be implemented to pique children’s interest in becoming a firefighter. The youth fire academy could help to introduce them to the fire cadet program for young teenagers and the junior firefighter program for older teenagers that are sponsored by some of the volunteer fire companies.

The Rodgers Group also suggested a new, centrally located fire station to ensure that volunteer and career firefighters could reach a fire anywhere in Lawrence within 10 minutes. It would replace the three existing firehouses.

According to the consultant’s report, the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies can respond to calls within their smaller coverage areas within five minutes. If they are needed to assist on a call in the Lawrenceville Fire Company’s coverage area in northern Lawrence Township, it would take them longer to arrive.

A new fire station also could be designed to accommodate the Lawrence Township Fire Department and the Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Services, the consultants wrote. The emergency medical technicians are stationed at the former Lawrence Township First Aid Squad building on Pilla Avenue.

“While many recommendations were made, they should not detract from the dedication and commitment of the career firefighters and the volunteer members of the fire companies serving Lawrence Township,” the consultants wrote.