NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP >> Northampton Township has been awarded close to $1 million from the federal government to expand its staff of paid firefighters.

The SAFER grant, announced by township supervisor and Northampton Township Fire Chief Adam Selisker Wednesday night, is good news for the township, which is feeling the pinch from a national shortage of volunteer firefighters.

“There were close to 300,000 volunteers in the late 1970s and 1980s” in Pennsylvania. “There’s less than 70,000 now for the whole state and it’s continuing to decline,” said Selisker, who calls the dwindling volunteer force “an epidemic” across the Commonwealth.

And Northampton is not immune, the chief continued.

“Our volunteers are strong, but the numbers are going down,” he said. “It has to do with the amount of training and the number of people who are out of town during the day and working. It’s just very difficult for them to give that time.

“But our pledge is to continue to provide seamless service,” said Selisker.

In 2009, faced with a shrinking volunteer force, the township applied for and won a grant from the federal government to hire four career firefighters.

Since then, the paid firefighters have been working the daytime shift from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday with volunteers covering evening and weekend hours.

“However, we continue to need more” career firefighters, said Selisker. “So we applied for another grant earlier this year.”

Selisker got the good news about a week ago that the township had again been successful, this time winning a three year grant for $889,128.50 to hire five new career firefighters.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Selisker. “It’s a big deal for Northampton. It’s a big deal for public safety in Northampton.”

The grant will bring the township’s career firefighter staff up to 11, including a career deputy fire chief and 10 career firefighters.

“That will allow us to expand the 8 to 4:30 shift to include longer hours during the day and weekends,” said Selisker.

“Our residents are quite busy on the weekend and it’s difficult to get volunteers,” he continued. “We’re still very strong at night with volunteers.”

Selisker gave a special “shout out” to Deputy Fire Chief Rob Holmes and Lisa Russo from the township administration for their work on the grant.

“These applications are quite complicated and a fire drill to get them done,” he said. “Both Rob and Lisa worked hard to make sure we got our application done and submitted on time.”

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities.

The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the NFPA. The grant program is administered by FEMA.

Other Bucks County fire companies receiving SAFER grants include Morrisville, $138,000 for recruitment and retention; Edgely Fire Company, $155,000 for recruitment and retention; and Langhorne-Middletown, $175,000 for recruitment and retention.

In other Northampton Township Fire Company news, the public is invited to this year’s Fire Prevention Open House to be held Friday, October 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at all three fire stations.

“All the stations will be open. You can see all the equipment, take pictures, climb on the trucks, put on fire gear and learn about fire prevention and safety,” said Selisker.

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