On May 2, 2018, 17-year-old Luke Dipasquale arrived home from school to find the family home along Toby Run Road near Danville in flames.
He immediately called 911 and his father, and it wasn’t long until more than 75 volunteer firefighters from three counties converged to battle the blaze.
No one was injured, but the Dipasquale home was destroyed and the family’s five pet cats perished.
On Sunday afternoon, Luke’s parents, Tom and Mary Dipasquale, hosted a picnic at the Southside Fire Company pavilion for more than 100 volunteer firefighters, first responders and neighbors who responded in their time of need.
“The fire response was amazing,” said Tom Dipasquale, 52, owner of D’s Clothier in downtown Danville. “This was just something we could do to give back to these people who brave it, run into danger when everyone else runs away.”
Across Pennsylvania, there are about 38,000 people who do this — invest a minimum of 200 hours of training and an unknown number of duty hours serving as volunteer firefighters.
“Pennsylvania has been fortunate that citizens historically have readily volunteered to provide fire and emergency medical services to their communities since Ben Franklin introduced the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia in 1736,” members of a state Senate commission assigned to study Pennsylvania emergency services wrote in a 2018 report.
The report notes, however, that the number of volunteer firefighters continues to decline — from about 300,000 in the 1970s to about 60,000 in the early 2000s to about 38,000 last year.
Among Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies, more than 90 percent are manned by volunteers. The state report attributes the decline to the tremendous amount of work volunteers perform in order to serve their communities. In addition to mandatory training and 24-hour-a-day response to emergencies, volunteers also must raise funds to maintain fire department services in their communities.
Those who are not overwhelmed and remain on duty provide the highest level of dedication and service to their communities. If the value of their service were translated into dollars, it would exceed $10 billion, state officials note.
But as the hugs, handshakes and pats on the back at Sunday’s picnic demonstrate, none of this is about money. It’s personal.
“We don’t respond to calls looking for something like this,” firefighter Matt Chappell of the Goodwill Hose Company in Danville said while enjoying his time at the Dipasquale picnic. “We respond for public safety. We do it to give back to the community.”
The estimated 12.81 million people who live in Pennsylvania can be thankful for the 38,000 men and women who volunteer to respond when the alarms sound.
Lawmakers also must respond. By reviewing recent recommendations issued emergency services personnel and study commissions, they can take meaningful action to support those who continue to offer the spirit of community service first displayed by the 30 volunteers of the Union Fire Company 40 years before the birth of this nation.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.