It’s never a good day if the fire company has to come to your house. But if you get to visit them, it’s a much better situation.
Alpha Fire Company hosted an open house Sunday at its downtown State College station, opening its doors to the community, children and anyone generally interested in learning about what exactly happens at the station.
“The idea is just to give people a chance to see what’s here,” Centre Region Council of Governments Fire Director Steve Bair said. “Most people have no reason to ever come in here.”
Alpha has been hosting open houses for as long as Bair can remember, but they switched to holding the event in the spring three years ago. Most people get too tied up with football in the fall, he said.
“Then we have fire prevention week, so all the kids see us in school,” he said. “What’s the point in coming to the firehouse?”
The kids did indeed come to the firehouse Sunday, and were met by volunteers and even Smokey the Bear to guide them through the equipment, trucks and techniques used in everyday firefighting. Referred to by Bair as “infotainment,” children were briefed on basic fire safety tips and given a bag of prizes and a fireman’s hat for their trouble.
While kids got the benefit of seeing the life of a firefighter up close, Bair said the open house did serve a second purpose — a chance for potential volunteers to get a look around as well.
“We’re starting to get to the point where our membership is aging,” he said, “and we’re going to start losing more people than we’re bringing in.”
Alpha is on the verge of a recruiting push, he said, inviting members of the community to consider being a volunteer.
The company has to say “no” to a lot of public appearances and events, he said. It would be nice to do those goodwill community things, but as volunteers, they only have so much time.
Even as the open house progressed, several firefighters rushed out when a call came in, taking three trucks with them.
The key to a sustainable volunteer fire company is for people to volunteer, he said. Bair said he would prefer at least 11 more firefighters and is looking for 18- to 45-year-old year-round residents.