Making a Difference: Volunteer firefighters saving lives by living at fire station

Six volunteer firefighters at Richland Township Volunteer Fire Department are making response times faster by living at the fire station. (WJAC)

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WJAC) - They're the heroes in our community keeping us safe every day, volunteer firefighters. In this week's Making a Difference, we visit the Richland Township Volunteer Fire Department to show you a unique program that's been around since 1991. Some of the firemen live at the fire station, which creates faster response times and hands on training.

“We like to have our hose pack neat... Just a little bit of pride in what we do," said Tim Meyers, who is a rescue lieutenant at the fire department, as he helped to fix the hose on their fire truck.

This is just one of many responsibilities for these Richland Township volunteer firefighters but their most important task begins when the bells go off.

“We’ve done everything from cutting people out of cars, bringing people back from cardiac arrest, dragging people out of fires,” said Meyes. “We do rope rescues, we do medical calls, trees down, we see everything."

They’re always ready to rush toward danger to save lives. It's a way of life for Meyers and his five brothers.

The fire station on Scalp Avenue in Richland Township is their home. They are part of the department's 'live in program' that's been around for nearly 3 decades.

“It’s something that I’m doing to give back to the community that brought me up and gave me everything that I have,” Meyers said. "We live here, we sleep here, we eat here, when I go home from work this is where I go, I don't go back to a house, I come back to the firehouse and I wait for another call."

Even though they all hold down jobs, many are EMTs at different departments, the program allows them to still find time to volunteer.

“When you're laying upstairs, cooking dinner, doing everything people do at home and the bells drill, you drop what you’re doing, you get in the rig, you leave. We've come back to cold meals,” said Mason Bailey, a volunteer firefighter at the department.

On the second floor of the firehouse, they have everything they need to live there and the walls are lined with memories.

"We like to be able to look back and tell war stories and be able to reminisce a little bit," Meyers said as he showed pictures on the wall of serious car crashes.

Because of the live in program, the fire station is staffed 24/7. They can get to emergencies faster, when seconds count. Car crashes are the most common emergencies they respond to.

“We wake up, we roll out of bed, come downstairs and we get on the truck and we go. We don't have to drive anywhere so within 2 minutes at 4 in the morning we have a truck on the road,” Meyers said.

The live in program also helps recruit members from different cities because they can live at the station.

They also help to keep the community safe through education and fundraisers.

While it's not easy on their personal lives, they have found a whole new definition of family.

They’re there for each other after the heartbreaking calls.

“We’ve all been on calls that stick with us and that's what the family aspect comes into play. We're a close-knit group of guys here, we talk it out, we move forward with it,” Bailey said.

And the good ones.

“If we're at a fire and we can bring out a family photo album or at an accident and we find out that patient lived or a cardiac arrest,” Meyers said. “We can see on the heart monitor that there's a heartbeat again. It's the little things like that that remind you why you do the job."

Most of them throw on a helmet and uniform because their fathers and grandfathers did the same.

And it's all worth it, as it's helping them climb up the latter and maybe someday become paid firefighters.

“You take the good with the bad calls, you roll with them, you learn from them, and you keep progressing moving forward to become a better fireman,” Bailey said.

Through flames and smoke, they’ll continue to be heroes in and around Richland Township and they hope others will join them on this courageous ride.

“It’ll change your life, it changed my life for sure, even though I’ve been doing this couple of years, moving in here changed me for the better,” Bailey said.

“As long as I’m physically able to do it, I don't plan on stopping. It's something that everybody has a hobby, fishing, hunting or whatever. This is my hobby, I ride firetrucks for a hobby,” Meyers said with a laugh.

Meyers said they can have about 15 people in the live in program so they're always welcoming new members, even people from out of town.

The department raises all of their own funds so they have a lot of fundraising events throughout the year.

You can even volunteer to help with events or just come out to show your support!

There will be a comedy show Friday, March 8th at 6:30 p.m. at their Scalp Avenue location and on Saturday, March 9th, former Steeler Brett Keisel will be there at 4:00 p.m. for a dinner with the department before going to the Johnstown Tomahawks game to drop the puck at 7:00 p.m.

Their fund drive starts Monday, March 11th. They will hold a craft show on Saturday, March 16th. Their first responders derby will be Saturday, April 13th.

To learn more about the live in program, click this link.

You can reach out to them to become a volunteer or to donate. Just go to their Facebook page.

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