The Collingswood Volunteer Fire Company has a long history of providing critical community service to Collingswood. Over the last several years, however, recruitment of volunteers has become increasingly difficult due to a myriad of factors including family and work commitments, occupational hazards, and training requirements. Modern day training requirements include emergency medical training and can include up to 250 hours of training, which when done on a part-time basis can take a year or more to complete. Firefighters are charged with Emergency Medical Services, fire inspections, public education, hazardous materials response, technical rescue operations, vehicle extractions, and other types of emergencies that were not required historically. Due to these reasons, recruitment of volunteers has suffered nationwide and Collingswood, like many departments, are or have transitioned to paid departments to address the increasing demands of responding to emergencies and keeping communities safe. The ordinance the Borough recently introduced simply amends an ordinance that was adopted in the 1970s and memorializes that Collingswood has a fully paid Fire and EMS department to service our 14,000 residents and the company no longer serves the public by fighting fires due to lack of adequate training. In practice, a volunteer has not responded to a call for service since 2018.
With respect to the building owned by the Volunteer Fire Company – the Borough previously leased the building when the Borough Fire Department and EMS service was headquartered there. We did ask the Volunteer Fire Company if they would be willing to give the space to the Fire Department for a new/upgraded building. It was one of the considerations when exploring spaces for the desperately needed police and fire building. As a reminder, the facilities were extremely outdated and did not meet state and federal standards. Through a series of 5 public meetings, we provided the public with tours and extensive information on the need for new facilities. The public even participated in the design selections to ensure the new facility fit within the character of the neighborhood. Several sites were considered, and the decision was made to build a combined public safety building at 434 Haddon Ave rather than two separate facilities. This approach provides the Borough with greater efficiencies in both building space and operations of both police and fire departments. The volunteer company retained ownership of the fire house when the department moved to the new public safety facility.
The former fire station is property owned by the Volunteer Fire Company not the Borough. It is our understanding that the Volunteer Fire Company was interested in selling the property and had a potential sale with a brewery, however during that process it was revealed that there is environmental testing and remediation that will need to be done. The Borough met with the Volunteer Fire Company representatives and has offered to work with them to bring the building or site back into productive use. There has been no follow-up communication with the Borough from the volunteer company about the building despite our requests to have a continued dialogue about working together. They simply did not respond. We then learned from social media about a proposal to put privately owned historical fire apparatus there on display.
The Commissioners remain open to discussion about the best use for the future of the building and perhaps most importantly – we are extremely grateful for the years of commitment and volunteer service that the Volunteer Company and many of its members provided over the years to our community. Those contributions are an important part of our history and should not be forgotten.
We hope this helps explain the difference between volunteer vs. paid Fire and Emergency Medical Services – we are always open to follow up questions about ordinances or borough operations. Just email me! firstname.lastname@example.org