Cecil Township hired a new fire chief this week to oversee its three volunteer departments.
Noel “Mac” McMullen, of North Strabane, will be the first paid fire chief in Cecil Township’s history, after a unanimous vote during a township meeting Monday.
“Volunteerism is decreasing across the country, and this was a necessary first step to hire a full-time fire chief to work with the three volunteer departments,” township supervisor Cindy Fisher said in a recent interview. “We’ve been very lucky for years to have such active volunteers, and as that continues in the future, we want to make sure the residents not only have the service they deserve but the service they expect.”
The township chose McMullen out of a pool of 28 applicants. He has been in the fire service, working in both paid and volunteer positions, for 40 years.
McMullen was the deputy chief in Peters Township for 27 of those years, before becoming the safety director for a local oil and gas company five years ago. He has been a paramedic for 20 years and a state fire instructor for 25 years.
“We were very lucky to get him,” Fisher said. “He has a stellar reputation for not only our community but the surrounding region. You can tell he’s eager to get to work. He has the personality of someone who’s going to work for the township and keep us on the right track for improvement and good fire service.”
McMullen said he knows most of the volunteers in the three departments –Muse, Cecil No. 3 and Lawrence – from working together on calls, in training and in some of the many classes he teaches throughout the county.
“I’ve been familiar with these departments my whole life through training and responding there with Peters Township,” McMullen said. “I felt that I was the right person to bring those three fire departments together.”
Fisher described the position as a “liaison” between the township and the three departments. She said the township first started discussing the position a year ago.
Dennis Berty, the volunteer chief at Cecil No. 3, said the township hired a consultant to analyze the three departments and make recommendations on future improvements. Berty’s been with the department for 48 years, 28 of them as chief.
“Volunteers are just not out there as much anymore,” he said. “I think [Mac] is the best choice we had that applied. We still need to really define how he’ll go about some of this.”
McMullen said some of his top goals for the position have to do with coordinated leadership and organization, especially when it comes to operations, training, response and future purchases of equipment and trucks.
“The last thing you want to do is duplicate equipment, especially with the large expense that fire apparatus is today,” he said.
He also plans to increase the number of volunteers across the township, and possibly add incentives for volunteer shifts at the station.
“Cecil is one of the fastest growing communities in Pennsylvania,” he said. “With the amount of new residences being built in the township, I believe there is a lot of potential to bring more volunteer firefighters into the department.”
Most volunteer departments, McMullen said, struggle with staffing, especially during the day when people are at work.
“It’s not as easy to volunteer in today’s world as it was 50 years ago,” he said. “We don’t want to get rid of the volunteers – we want to increase the number of them. I think we need to organize that and get them working and responding together.”
Cory Wonderly, who’s been the volunteer chief at Muse for two years, said his department has struggled for years with daylight staffing. He said putting McMullen in this position will help them “get ahead” of those problems.
“I know what needs to happen – we need to see volunteers and we need to see paid staffing,” Wonderly said. “Mac is absolutely the best choice they could have made. He’s very well-known as a fire instructor, not only in the county but with our own guys. His personality is going to be the best fit to get everybody on the same page.”
Many other volunteer leaders echoed Wonderly’s feelings, and expressed confidence in his ability to steer the three departments into the future.
“The fire service is changing, the volunteer rate is dwindling at an alarming pace, and we see it everywhere,” said DJ Johnson, assistant volunteer chief at Cecil No. 3. “You have to build a foundation, and the best way to start is with a career chief. We’re very fortunate to have Mac as our chief because he’s so well respected in fire service, and he’s a great person who will get along with people.”
Stush Sadowski, the volunteer chief at Lawrence, said McMullen instructed him, his children and many of the 14 volunteers in his department.
“I would send an 18-year-old kid with no experience into a fire with Mac, but I wouldn’t send him in with any else,” Sadowski said. “Mac’s job now is to unite us. It’s like we’re the same family, but we don’t live in the same house. We’re on a road that has not been paved yet.”