Amish firefighters help protect the community in Buckingham

Published 6:30 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

TOGA – It’s a crisp and clear day in Toga, and Benjamin Beiler just got word about a fire in Buckingham County. Beiler lives only about a half a mile from the fire house, but time is of the essence. He’s got to get there quickly, so he hops on his scooter, outfitted with a light and a siren, and kick-starts the ground to be on his way. 

The scooter has no motor. It’s not battery-operated or gas-fueled. Beiler is Amish, and good ol’ fashioned foot power is his mode of transportation. 

“Obviously having an emergency flasher makes it like a fire truck which is just fun,” Beiler says with a laugh. 

Amish firefighters volunteer with Toga

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Beiler is one of several men in Buckingham’s Amish community who volunteer their time with the Toga Volunteer Fire Department. A member of a community famed worldwide for their plain clothes and horse-drawn buggies, their traditional life of faith, family and work hasn’t hindered the men from serving alongside their non-Amish neighbors. With a population of about 150, the five Amish men play a significant role in the fire department’s effort to keep the community safe, and they’ve been doing so for about five years.

“They’re very community-oriented,” says Fire Chief Brian Bates. “That’s what you see in most people who are in volunteer roles in the fire department or otherwise, but that characteristic is really deep in the Amish DNA.”

Building an Amish Outreach Committee

As the Amish started to move into the county over the last decade, Bates says his department formed an Amish Outreach Committee to assist in integrating them into the community.

“We rode out, met a couple of folks and introduced ourselves,” Bates said. “They had expressed an interest in learning more about the fire department, and that’s really how the conversation started. I’m really glad we did that.”

The effort, like a volunteer-run fire department, is a community one. Though Bates admits the Amish are ingenious about getting to the firehouse, they’ve worked out a network that can help if they need it.

“Obviously, they don’t drive,” Bates said. “So if I know the route I’m going to respond to a call will take me to one of their homes, I’ll get on the radio and be by their location. And if they’re there, I pick them up and we roll, otherwise they’re good about getting rides from their neighbors.”

‘A unique perspective’

Beiler, like many in his community, works a job in construction. The days stretch from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., but if he can find the availability, he takes the calls and rushes to the fire house, flipping on his scooter’s siren so his wife knows he’s on his way. He says the Amish and other men who work with the department have great camaraderie.

“It’s just a time when you get together, socialize, talk common interests, and sit around and tell tall stories,” he says. “Just like any social event where men folk get together and raise cane.”

Bates says they bring a unique perspective to the team.

“They’re happy to help,” he says. “They are very practical and pragmatic, which is what I’m hopeful to find in volunteers in my department, and they do that as well as anybody.”

There are certain days that stick out in Beiler’s memory: both good and bad. He says he’ll never forget the efforts to find Landon “Waldy” Raber, the six year-old boy who drowned last July.

“That was the most heart-rending day,” he said. “But this is something you do, and it’s great being a part of giving back to our community, to try and make it a great place. We’re not special. We do this because we’re just like any other volunteer.”

It’s that selfless trait that Bates references again and again — the notion that Beiler and other members of the Amish community will do anything, simply, to help their neighbors.

And for Beiler, that’s often done one scooter ride at a time.