Wallingford Could Close Fire Station, Departments Seeing Drop in Volunteers

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Wallingford may be saying good bye to the Yalesville Volunteer Station and it’s where Chief Richard Heidgerd got his start.

“Closing this station is a big deal,” said Chief Heidgerd. It’s not because he believes it will hurt response time, but it could weaken support for the paid crews or what he refers to as career.

“Luckily on this side of town we have a career department that’s very close by, but we still need this manpower,” said Heidgerd. “It’s not about me, It’s about protecting the community.”

He plans on holding an open house to attract more volunteers.

“If we can get more members it would definitely curtail the closing of stations, ” said Heidgerd.

The chief says over the last ten years, they’ve seen volunteers go from 120 down to just 54 and he says he needs to do what is best for the town.

“A lot of people work two jobs, a lot of people just don’t have that connection that they did to volunteer service 30 years ago,” said Retired Wallingford Fire Chief Peter Struble.

Struble works with Fire Chiefs across the country on this issue. He says departments facing the biggest problems are ones that rely on both paid and volunteer firefighters like Wallingford, North Haven, and Meriden. He says it’s hard replacing the dependable, retiring baby boomers who staffed these stations for many years.

“If you don’t get that fire out very very quickly and you need more people that’s where the problem is going to happen,” said Struble.

One event motivated Capt. of a volunteer North Haven station Robert Santora, 29.

“I was in 10th grade when 9/11 happened so that inspired me to join,” said Santora. The Junior Program brought him in and he’s stayed 13 years. He believes once you get young people in the door, they’ll stay.

“You mold that life around them, when you’re older and you have a family already it’s much harder to incorporate this into your lifestyle,” said Santora.

Wallingford will make the tough decision on whether or not to close by the end of the month.

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