As published in the Latrobe Bulletin on May 15, 2020. Republished with approval by the author. 

By Mark Piantine, Chief, Derry Township Volunteer Fire Department

First responder organizations are often financially distressed as we struggle to keep our equipment updated and functioning. Add a global pandemic, and our resources are stretched even more thinly.

For volunteer organizations, specifically, there are not only limited finances for gear, equipment and training — but we have the added challenge of keeping our all-volunteer forces motivated to keep showing up. This is why brigades are getting smaller and fundraising is becoming more difficult, and these smaller departments are forced to do more and more.

That’s not to mention the equipment we need, and are required to replace every few years, is more expensive than ever. Our force of 40 volunteers, located in Westmoreland County about 41 miles east of Pittsburgh, serves a 105-square-mile territory with the use of an engine, an engine rescue, an attack truck, a tanker, a brush truck, a utility truck and three water rescue boats, all from one station. In a typical year we respond to about 550 calls, both within our service territory and through mutual aid to eight neighboring departments with a total population of more than 20,000.

Times have changed from our humble beginnings in 1938, when fundraisers, raffles, musical shows and bingo allowed us to purchase the equipment we needed. Between rising costs, a more diverse community and modern critical infrastructure, our needs continue to grow while our cash flow does not.

There are federal and state grant programs out there, but over the years they have become increasingly restrictive. We are happy to see new programs being floated by the Pennsylvania legislature in response to COVID-19 to support first responders, but state programs can sometimes take time and present hurdles before we are able to take full advantage.

Fortunately, corporate partners like Energy Transfer have stepped up to help us bridge the gaps. Through the company’s First Responder Fund, the Derry Township Volunteer Fire Department has been awarded more than $20,000 since 2017, allowing us to purchase an off-road, all-terrain vehicle to access remote areas of the township, and just recently a firefighting apparatus to be mounted on that vehicle.

Energy Transfer operates several miles of pipelines in our coverage area. The company has shown time and again that they care about the communities where they operate. Between the First Responder Fund and other monetary donations, in addition to emergency trainings and community outreach, they have been a good neighbor and a proven partner in keeping our communities safe.

These grants have allowed us to better respond to emergencies in remote areas that we can’t access with our regular patrol units and would otherwise need to call for mutual aid. It’s a win all around — for the first responders and residents of not just our service areas, but all those around us.

Other companies could take a page from this playbook, and of course, some do. Especially during these trying times across the entire nation, when federal support is limited, now is the time for corporate partners to step up.

Those of us protecting and serving on the front lines appreciate it when they do.