P ENNSYLVANIA — specifically, native son Benjamin Franklin — created the concept of volunteer fire brigades, which have served small communities   since 1736. But nearly three centuries later, rural communities like many in Westmoreland County   are struggling to maintain that selfless tradition. Faced with a sharp decline in volunteer firefighters, philanthropic and emergency services officials turned to a federal government program to make Westmoreland the proving ground for a novel recruitment strategy. With a $10,000 planning grant from The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, 60 fire departments made a joint application for federal Department of Homeland Security support. The result: A $10,000 investment leveraged a $4.3 million award from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which will boost recruitment and training levels. The goal is to increase the number of volunteer firefighters by 500 countywide. “Volunteer firefighting is a rich tradition,” says Phil Koch, executive director of the CFWC, “and it’s vital to every member of the community.” Longtime Penn Hills firefighter Rege Synan is part of that tradition, along with his grandfather, father, two brothers and son. And he’s concerned. A SMALL REGIONAL INVESTMENT BY THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF WESTMORELAND COUNTY HAS LED TO A MULTI-MILLION-DOLLAR FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN FIRST RESPONDERS FA L L 2 0 1 7 5 M