The picture continues to be bleak when it comes to attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters, Yardley-Makefield Fire Company Deputy Chief Tim Chamberlain told the Lower Makefield Township supervisors at their Sept. 14 meeting.
Board members also heard a presentation from SAFE Highway Engineering on proposed road modifications designed to improve pedestrian safety and walkability near the Regency at Yardley housing development at Big Oak and Oxford Valley roads.
Chamberlain said the number of active volunteer firefighters at YMFC – meaning those who respond to at least 25 percent of calls – has fallen from 34 to 31 in the last year. The average age of those active volunteers continues to trend upward as family and work obligations and other issues are holding down the number of younger volunteers, he added.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped either. Chamberlain said four firefighters stopped responding to calls after March of 2020 because they feared contracting the virus on a call and bringing it home.
Of the 18 new volunteers accepted into membership since January of 2017, eight have already resigned because of lack of time or changes in their personal lives, the deputy chief noted.
“The fire service is suffering, just like businesses who cannot find help,” Chamberlain said. “I wouldn’t want it to get to a point where a fire truck can’t get out to an emergency.”
Problems at Yardley-Makefield reflect a trend in Bucks Couinty, Pennsylvania and the United States, officials at the meeting said.
“We need to start talking about what we can do to address these shortfalls,” township Manager Kurt Ferguson said. “There’s no one, single answer.”
Supervisor John Lewis suggested that perhaps the township could help the fire company develop a comprehensive marketing plan to attract more members.
SAFE Highway Engineering Principal Joe Fiocco presented a package of improvements that include modifications at two Big Oak Road intersections with smaller side streets.
They include creating crosswalks that would feature pedestrian islands on Big Oak so walkers have a safe refuge halfway across the road, and actually narrowing the road at those points to slow traffic down. The modifications would increase connectability and make it safer and easier for residents of the Regency at Yardley South section to cross over into the North section, and vice versa, Fiocco said.
Also proposed were walking trails in Regency South that, among other advantages, would make it easier for those residents to walk to a nearby CVS Pharmacy and PNC Bank.
In total, the improvements would cost between $585,000 and $645,000, Fiocco estimated. They would be paid for out of a fund supplied by the Regency at Yardley developers and created as the result of a 2006 legal settlement that changed the development from commercial – including big box stores – to residential.
That fund now stands at around $600,000 but is expected to soon grow to about $750,000, township officials said.
Many Regency residents have been calling for a traffic light for at least one of the Big Oak Road intersections, but Fiocco said the locations don’t meet PennDOT requirements for a light.
But Regency South residents Bob Nemeroff and Marc Feller said at the meeting they didn’t think the SAFE Highway Engineering proposals would be very effective and were hoping for something better. Perhaps there is something short of a traffic light but more effective than these proposals, they said.