Volunteer shortage forcing Camden County fire department to close 3 firehouses

The three fire stations include 25-4 in Tansboro, 25-6 in Albion and 25-9 in Elm.

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Friday, May 17, 2024
Volunteer shortage forcing NJ fire department to close 3 firehouses
Volunteer shortage forcing Camden County fire department to close 3 firehouses

WINSLOW TOWNSHIP, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The Winslow Township Fire Department will close half of its fire stations by the end of the year, Chief Marc Rigberg announced in a letter posted to social media on Wednesday.

The three fire stations include 25-4 in Tansboro, 25-6 in Albion and 25-9 in Elm.

Rigberg told Action News the decision was made because of the department's ongoing challenges with recruiting and maintaining volunteer firefighters to staff the fire stations set to close.

"We have a couple of stations where we only have two or three active members," Rigberg said. "It's unfortunately not sustainable anymore."

The township does offer incentives such as free training and financial stipends, but even that hasn't been enough to attract volunteers to keep the current operation sustainable. The chief said that coupled with the fact that a lot of the volunteers have jobs and families to tend to has created an untenable situation that has been building for years.

Rigberg also said training requirements have gone up over the years, making it more difficult to find volunteer firefighters who are qualified to perform the duties of the job.

"Requirements are going up across the board, which again affects people's times of what they can contribute," he said. "We shouldn't even be referred to as a fire department anymore because we handle a multitude of various life-threatening situations."

Three decades ago the township had about 140 volunteer firefighters serving the area across nine stations. Today, the number of volunteers has fallen dramatically to about 35, which has contributed to a drop in response rates at some locations as the need in the community continues to rise.

With a 60-square-mile service area, people who live in the area told Action News they were concerned about the department's ability to make it out to calls in a timely manner.

"It's a shame actually. It's going to put a lot of people in jeopardy," said James Wiesman.

Helen Buffo said the station near her home was more than just a firehouse. She said it has been a place where the community has gone to celebrate milestones; where children could meet the Easter Bunny and where firefighters have gone out into the community to celebrate major holidays like Christmas.

"It's a shame, it's a shame because we as a neighborhood count on them," Buffo said.

Teri Juliano said both her son and daughter were once volunteer firefighters at the Albion fire station which is set to close.

She said she knows how demanding and challenging the job could be and would like the department to hire more firefighters full-time to make up for the impending closures.

"They do risk their lives to go in these fires and they get very little for it," Juliano said. "If they're going to close down things, we need to have a bigger fire station with paid firefighters."

Chief Rigberg said the 35 volunteer firefighters at the stations that will be closed will move to the administrative building to centralize operations and so the volunteers can contribute to critical operations. Two fully staffed, 24-hour fire stations will remain open.

He said, although not at fault, he would to see lawmakers get involved to help figure out a solution because this is a critical issue that is affecting communities all across the country.