Lawrence Township Fire Study Recommendations Include Youth Academy Recruitment and Efforts



Lawrenceville Fire CompanyLEA KAHN / STAFF

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Lawrenceville Fire CompanyLEA KAHN / STAFF

Creation of a combination of volunteer / career firefighters with a full-time career leader in place of the three volunteer fire companies, each with their own fire chief.

Establish a formal volunteer recruitment program and propose measures to encourage volunteer firefighters to stay involved.

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

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

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

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

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

With the Rodgers Group fire study in hand, City Manager Kevin Nerwinski and Emergency Management Coordinator Jack Oakley review the document. Four of the 38 recommendations have been implemented and more are under review, Nerwinski said.

These four recommendations relate to training firefighters, expanding mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns, and inspecting commercial and industrial buildings so that firefighters become familiar with buildings when responding to a call.

Creating a volunteer / career combination for the Township of Lawrence Fire Department is one of the 34 recommendations reviewed by Nerwinski and Oakley. The Rodgers Group report recommends that the combined service be headed by a full-time career fire chief.

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

A combined service of volunteer firefighters and career firefighters will provide the opportunity for greater interaction between volunteer and professional firefighters, according to the report.

Recognizing 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 ministry-wide application, approval and referral process was also recommended.

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

In addition, a one-week youth firefighter academy could be set up to arouse children’s interest in becoming a firefighter. The Youth Fire Academy could help introduce them to the Fire Cadet Program for Young Teens and the Junior Fire Program for Older Teens which are sponsored by some of the volunteer fire companies.

The Rodgers Group also suggested a new centrally located fire station to ensure volunteer and professional firefighters could reach a fire anywhere in Lawrence in under 10 minutes. It would replace the three existing fire stations.

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

A new fire hall could also be designed to accommodate the Township of Lawrence Fire Department and the Township of Lawrence Emergency Medical Services, the consultants wrote. Emergency medical technicians are stationed in the old Lawrence Township First Aid Squad building on Pilla Avenue.

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