There was an overwhelming cry for help.
Volunteerism across the country is down and that was repeated by nearly every speaker who bellied up to the podium to address a crowd of around 100 people, mostly volunteer firefighters already or their family members.
This service was held a week earlier than the national "Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters" observance due to that date being smack dab in the middle of Applefest.
The event was organized by a committee led by Sandycreek chaplain Sandy Lewis and featured speeches from state Representative. R. Lee James, State Senator Scott Hutchinson, Venango County Commissioners, Mike Dulaney, Chip Abromovic and Sam Breene as well as keynote speaker Chaplain Paul Hammaker. Opening prayer and benediction was given by Rev. Mark Fultz and chaplain Sany Young handled the memorial service.Franklin High School's madrigal singers opened the event and Noah Taylor and Andrew Rugh played taps. Matt Perry played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.
Suddenly broken by the shaking voice od Betty Ghering. "A few years ago I died." she said telling the tale of how a heart attack caused emergency personnel to respond to her home in the middle of the night for what seemed like a hopeless resuscitation. Even the ER doctor on the phone said to stop CPR after it appeared their efforts weren't going to start her heart again. But Betty's heart slowly, perhaps miraculously, started beating again and the firefighters and paramedics on scene said they now had a pulse and were bringing her in to the ER. They were now bringing a person under their care back to life.
Ghering pointed to one of the firefighters in the crowd. "If it wasn't for Sandy Creek fire department I wouldn't be hear today."
One by one they agreed more volunteers were needed. Commissioner Mike Dulaney said that nearly 35,000 Venango County residence are served by volunteer departments and just over 16,000 are covered by paid and volunteer staffs He called for more volunteers emphasizing the numbers across the state are dramatically down. In 2018 it was estimated that only about 38,000 volunteers were answering calls compared to over 300,000 in the 1970s. Fundraising for volunteers are also strained with less volunteers to help.
Organizer Sandy Lewis asked all fire departments to provide rosters to show what the numbers looked like and to be sure those serving were recognized. The lists came in showing in the neighborhood of a $1,000 dues paying members.
These members are all important but it is also important to note that there are not a 1,000 members who are capable of entering burning structures. Only about 20 to 30% of members go to calls and this includes the fire police, support staff and EMS crews.
Lewis emphasized all members are important in making a department work. Fundraisers are crucial to keeping the gear up-to-date and functioning properly. Having to purchase a new truck can devastate a small community volunteer fire company.
Not only the volunteer departments were honored, the paid Oil City and Franklin departments were also honored in the ceremony.
Below are a few more photos from this event.