Mike Kitsock never thought he’d still be fighting fires as a sexagenarian.
But such is life for Kitsock, 66, in a land where volunteer ranks have dwindled and old wooden homes can quickly turn to ash.
“We get a daytime call, I’m hoping there’s two or three others who show up with me,” said Kitsock, who still runs with the Seltzer Hose Company in Norwegian Township in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. In the early days, he had to jostle with 20 to 30 other volunteers just to get on the engine. Now, comparatively, it’s a ghost town.
Fifty years ago, Schuylkill County had 10,000 volunteers. Today, it still has 100 fire houses, but fewer than 1,000 volunteers.
Longer working hours, longer commutes and the rise of dual-income households have left less time for volunteering. Firefighters are aging and not being replaced. Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the volunteer fire company and to this day most firefighting in the state — and in the country — is done by volunteers.