Ben Franklin may have founded America’s first volunteer fire company in Pennsylvania in 1736, but recent history hasn’t been kind to the commonwealth’s firefighting units.

According to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, the number of volunteer firefighters statewide shrunk from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018.

But there were still enough of them and other emergency personnel to fill the ballroom at Lakeside Venues in German Township, Fayette County, Tuesday evening for a reception at which Chevron announced it was donating $241,000 to more than 50 area volunteer fire departments and emergency responders.

“We wanted to bring you together tonight so we could look you in the eye and thank you for everything that you do,” said Brent Robinson, Chevron corporate affairs representative.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, took the opportunity to express her gratitude, too.

“I, Pam Snyder, citizen, taxpayer, want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do,” Snyder said. “What Chevron’s doing tonight, I think, should show you how special you are.”

Snyder said the work of emergency responders doesn’t stop when they leave the scene.

“I watch you when the sirens go off; I watch my home fire company over there, Jefferson, constantly out and about, my portion of Fayette County, all of Greene County, my little piece of Washington County. I not only just watch you save lives and put your lives on the line,” Snyder said. “I watch you sell hoagies and have cash bashes and raise money to keep those fire station doors open.”

Individual departments will receive up to $5,000 each from Chevron, which said that it has donated more than $700,000 to local volunteer fire departments and emergency responders since 2016, funding automated external defibrillator equipment, stop-bleed kits and body cameras.

Of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies, more than 90% are volunteer companies, according to a 2018 report from the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. That report noted that the value that volunteer emergency service organizations provide Pennsylvania may have been as high as $10 billion.

“The significant drop in the number of volunteer emergency services ranks can be directly attributed to the fact that (in addition to fighting fires and responding to every other imaginable emergency around the clock), our volunteer emergency service responders are often the same individuals who must raise the funds to pay for their own training, in many cases provide for their own equipment, conduct administrative services and support, and maintain equipment and facilities,” noted the report, a product of a 39-member commission comprised of fire and EMS organizations and leaders throughout the commonwealth that was established by a state Senate resolution.

Greene County recipients include the following fire companies: Bobtown and Dunkard Township; Clarksville; Jefferson; Greensboro-Monongahela Township; Mount Morris; Rices Landing; Carmichaels & Cumberland Township; Center Township, and Waynesburg. Greene County Emergency Management Agency also will receive a donation.

Washington County-based recipients include Amwell Township, East Bethlehem Township Station 15, Marianna Station 67, McDonald , Midway and Washington County Department of Public Safety.

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