Volunteer fire companies, once the heart and soul of small towns across the country, are suffering a decline, as once tight-knit communities become increasingly less so.
The days when everyone knew everyone else and families tended to stay put for generations have long-since ended, as young people depart for better economic opportunities, and older people without those traditional ties to the community replace them.
Then, too, the sense of civic responsibility that sometimes created backlogs of people waiting to join fire companies has faded over the years.
In the meantime, residents expect more from their emergency services, while also believing that it’s up to their governments to cover the costs, without any additional expense to them.
Bluntly put, that’s not going to work, considering that half of this county’s 10 volunteer fire companies are based in unincorporated areas and have only the county government to turn to for financial assistance when donations and fundraisers don’t cover the bills.
Meanwhile, those companies that do receive aid from their towns or community associations, as well as the county, are being called on more and more to serve the expanding populations outside their communities.
In essence, fire and emergency response jurisdictions have long since grown well beyond the confines of their communities.
As a result, the Worcester County Commissioners have but one option, as they explore how these critical services can obtain the financial support they desperately need: the creation of tax-supported fire districts that reflect the actual jurisdictions and populations these companies serve.
Although that might not be popular with residents, they must acknowledge that the alternative would be to bet their lives that these services will figure out how to make do with what they have and continue to function at peak levels.
That’s not a bet most logical people would want to make.