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Kirwan Heights Fire Department in need of volunteers

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Firefighter Bill Lacy of Collier, a volunteer with Kirwan Heights Fire Department for 41 years, secures some anchors on a roof during training.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Firefighter Michael Tomnay of Pittsburgh (left) and Captain Michael Quinlan secure a rope during training with the Kirwan Heights Fire Department.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Firefighter Ryan Neary of Scott Township is hoisted to a 3rd story window during fire rescue training with the Kirwan Heights Fire Department.

Rescue captain Mike Quinlan was 14 when he first volunteered to be a firefighter.

Nineteen years later, he still spends hours each week training and donating his time to the Kirwan Heights Fire Department. Quinlan, 33, recalled his journey on Aug. 4, while overseeing his fellow firefighters during a night of rope-rescue training at an abandoned house near the Interstate 79 interchange on Washington Pike.

“A couple of friends were firefighters and I started hanging out there and thought, ‘This is cool.' And I've been there ever since.”

But members say the number of volunteers are dwindling, and they could use some help.

“Volunteers are hard to come by. It's harder nowadays because a lot of people work two jobs and it's just hard to find volunteers. We operate completely on volunteers. Everyone's in the same struggle we are,” Deputy Chief Earle Allender said.

Fire Chief Troy Riddle, 26, said his department has lost eight members over the past few years due to members' school schedules, or people moving out of the area.

Kirwan Heights' fire department has 18 members, 12 of whom are active. They train for up to three hours each Monday night, performing tasks such as vehicle rescue and operations.

Riddle said there's more to the fire department than meets the eye.

“There's tons of training you have to go through. That's the biggest thing. But the fire department isn't just about firefighting, it's across the board.”

He'd be happy to have volunteers who dedicate time solely to fundraising.

“Absolutely, that's the biggest thing. Being here and being helpful,” Riddle said.

Riddle, of Scott, was named chief on Jan. 1 and joined the department when he was 14. He works as a dispatcher for Allegheny County 911.

“A couple of my friends were in it and I started with them and took it from there. When I came here 12 years ago, they were in the remodeling phase. I helped them with that, ran calls, took a bunch of classes here and learned from a lot of older guys here.”

Allender, 30, said the junior firefighting program accepts volunteers as young as 14 and perform tasks, such as retrieving items from a truck.

“The idea of the junior program is to try to get them in when they're young and interested in it. Maybe it sparks something so when they do turn 16, they can go to the state fire academy to become a firefighter,” he said.

Members cannot face live fire situations until they are at least 18 years old.

During the night's training exercises, firefighters set up a pulley system consisting of ropes connected to rescue vehicles so they could practice walking down the side of the house, which was donated to the department two months ago, and perform “raise and haul” exercises.

Quinlan said the training simulates raising or lowering someone in need of help, such as a window washer who is stuck on the side of a building.

“It's the life of a volunteer. Donate your time. Not a lot of people want to do it anymore, either. There's a lot of work and a lot of training.”

Despite the long hours, Riddle is always aware of his mission.

“It's great to help people. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, but we're all here to do one thing, that's to help the public. Be here for the public and the township as much as we can.”

Dave Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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