It is disappointing that Sunbury’s Fire Department had to shut down Engine Co. Number 1 for at least 60 days after city fire chief Brad Wertz determined the firefighters were not properly trained.

Wertz is doing the right thing. The disappointment comes from knowing that six of the eight firefighters have found themselves on the scene of fires without proper training, putting themselves, other fire personnel and the public in danger. Wertz pulled the company out of service last week after learning about the training deficit.

“I decided it was a liability at this time to keep the department running,” he said. “For now it is just safer for everyone until they receive the proper training.”

Wertz said Number 1’s Chief Brandon Pehowic agreed with the temporary shutdown.

The majority of Pennsylvanians rely on volunteers to man local fire departments. The number of volunteers has been diminishing for five decades. There are fewer than 38,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania — a fraction of the 300,000 who were serving in the 1970s, state data show.

With dwindling numbers, it would be easy to cut corners. Wertz made the right decision. Hopefully, the Number 1 crew comes back after increasing their training to a level where they can be beneficial at a fire scene.

While local firefighters are volunteers, they are in name only. The majority of active firefighters in our region are expertly trained; they are as professional as volunteers can get and, for that, we should all be grateful.

Both volunteer and paid firefighters can acquire 34 levels of certification, everything from a Firefighter I to a driver to hazardous materials training, according to the Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

Time for each course depends on the certification. The state requires a 16-hour Emergency Vehicle Operations Course before a firefighter can drive a ladder truck. At a minimum, each member who responds to calls must be certified “Firefighter I” — including having at least 70 hours as a first-responder — and must get through all of the training programs in one year.

“I appreciate the people that want to help and become volunteers but we just need to get everyone trained properly,” Wertz said.

“The city is very proud and grateful for the Sunbury Fire Department and each of the volunteer firefighters,” City Administrator Jody Ocker said. “It’s important to recognize where there may be gaps in training and to take action to provide necessary training to make sure every firefighter is prepared. This is important for the safety of all firefighters and the public. I think Fire Chief Wertz has done the right thing and I’m confident the Sunbury Steam Fire Co. No. 1 will be back in service soon.”

We agree.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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