Teen firefighter from Cheswick continues family legacy
Though firefighting runs in her family, when she was younger, Cheswick's Heather Sandusky was unsure about whether she wanted to step up and join the ranks.
Her father, Cheswick Volunteer Fire Company Chief Lindsay Sandusky, would often ask her to come down to the station with him when she was a little girl, she recalls.
She was busy at that time with horses and the 4-H club.
Finally, when she was 16 years old, Sandusky, now 18, decided to listen to dad and give firefighting a chance.
Those first few steps toward involvement at Cheswick's company sparked a deep interest in firefighting and emergency rescue.
She received her Firefighter 1 certification, which enables a firefighter to enter a burning building. She also became an emergency medical technician and received her basic vehicle rescue certification, among numerous other training certifications.
This year, she is the fire company's assistant secretary and second lieutenant. She is also a member of the Penn Hills Volunteer Fire Department.
“I never saw myself doing it, but I love it now and wouldn't trade it for the world,” she said.
“I figured just that I'd be a year member,” she said. “But it's become my life.”
That life is one that has been recognized recently, by both the borough and the Community College of Allegheny County.
Last month, Cheswick honored her with a proclamation of appreciation, recognizing her dedication to serving the community as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
She also received a full scholarship to CCAC through its Fire Volunteer Education, Service and Training Scholarship program. She will begin college in the fall and plans to study nursing.
Also known as FireVEST, the CCAC scholarship provides not only for the full scholarship in a certificate or associate degree program at the college, it covers training at the Allegheny County Fire Academy.
“I think she's well-deserving of it,” said Cheswick Fire Company president Joe Ferrero, who helped nominate Sandusky for the award.
“Her dedication to fire service, EMT and everything else as a young woman has been very outstanding.”
Long-time fire company member and past fire chief David Gillard agrees.
“It just amazed me,” he said of her efforts, adding that her leadership qualities make Sandusky a standout.
“She's not afraid to take on anything.”
While Sandusky said she was surprised to receive the honors, giving back is not uncommon for the Springdale High School graduate.
“It's just something I was raised with. If you do something to give back, give it your best and your all.”
Not only giving back, but firefighting, is in her blood.
Her grandfather was a firefighter in Michigan. Both of her brothers, Joshua and Lindsay, are volunteer firefighters as well.
That doesn't mean that her position at the fire company isn't unique. According to Gillard, Sandusky is only the second woman to join the company as an active firefighter. Sandusky herself is aware of that distinction.
“You don't see many female firefighters, let alone female officers,” she said.
The company has been receptive, treating her as “one of the guys” and approving a revision of the bylaws, which incorporated gender-inclusive language.
For her father, seeing the self-described “daddy's little girl” grow up to follow in the family's footsteps is touching.
“It's fantastic for a young teen to take such an interest in the community,” he said. “Her mom and I are very, very proud of her.”
Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer.