CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Volunteer Fire Department is in need of new members, especially during the day shift.
Fire Chief Thomas Francesconi told the Selectmen on Tuesday that the department is down to five volunteers who are available during the day.
"It is becoming an issue for us and I think we need to collaborate and put our heads together and see if we can come up with some solutions," he said. "It's not getting any easier."
He said this is mostly an issue on the emergency medical services side of the department because Cheshire has mutual aid agreements with other fire departments.
When General Electric was still in operation in Pittsfield, it was easy to cover daytime with volunteers who worked the night shift, Francesconi said, but with most people working 9 to 5 jobs, it is hard to fill out this block of time.
"In the days of GE there was second shift and third shift so we had people around during the day before work," he said. "Right now, we rely on basically the Highway Department because many of our members work for the town. We have relied on some of the retired members but even that is getting scarce."
Francesconi said he has thought of a few options so far, such as removing the residency requirement. Currently, you have to be a Cheshire resident of six months to volunteer.
"I have received some interest from people who live on our side of Pittsfield who want to give back and be on the fire department but have too many commitments to be full time in the city," he said. "But even this brings logistical issues like response times and insurance."
Francesconi said another option would be to have a private ambulance service use the garage.
"That would cost Cheshire nothing except the cost of lighting the garage and heating it during the winter," he said. "There would be no salary from us they would just use the building."
He said a local organization offered this some years ago and he would see if the offer still stands as well as reach out to other organizations.
Francesconi said volunteer department membership numbers are down everywhere.
"It is not specifically a Cheshire problem and I don't want you to think we are doing anything wrong because it is a nationwide problem," he said. "I have spoken to a number of my brother and sister chiefs around the county and neighboring communities and they are going through the same thing."
He added that with all of the training that goes along with firefighting, it is a larger commitment than it was in the past.
"Gone are the days I hand you a helmet, a rubber coat and some gloves and tell you to jump in the fire truck," he said. "There are guidelines and certifications and people just don't have time for it anymore."
Selectman Robert Ciskowski said the decline in population is, in general, causing issues for the town.
"We need 500 younger families to move to Cheshire and what we saw in the Master Plan is that Cheshire is going gray," he said. "In 15 years, barring something unforeseen, it's only going to escalate. We are getting older."