Lou Battistella and daughter Elysia make Greensburg VFD history
By Bob Stiles
Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
Lou Battistella and his daughter Elysia have made Greensburg Fire Department history.
In September, they entered the record books as the first father-daughter duo in the department, when Elysia joined Hose No. 8, where her father serves as first lieutenant.
She joined during a recruitment drive. Fire companies across the nation are looking for new ways to entice needed volunteers after witnessing a decline over the last few decades.
“I'm proud of her,” said her father, an emergency responder for 40 years who has served in the Greensburg department for 20 years.
Elysia served the last 12 years as a handler with the department's bloodhound team before joining the ranks as a firefighter.
“It looks interesting, and I want to help people,” she said. “I'm excited.”
Elysia, who became a reserved member of the department last year, joined No. 8 after learning Chief J. Edward Hutchinson, her father and others were seeking recruits for the department, where the average firefighter is 58 years old.
“We got talking about it, and she said, ‘I think I want to join,'” Lou recalled.
Elysia, 28, said she was inspired to sign up because of the need for volunteers and her past experience.
“I'm kind of halfway there (as a dog handler and reserve member), so I wanted to do the whole thing,” she said. “Plus, they need volunteers, and I decided I might as well go and help the city.”
More volunteers aren't joining because of increased training demands to fight fires and daily time constraints, among other reasons, according to her father and Hutchinson.
Volunteer companies need new recruits to learn from and then replace older members, they said.
“The Greensburg Fire Department is getting older, and we're not getting an influx of new people,” Lou said. “I guess it's a sign of the times. People aren't interested in joining as much.”
“Volunteerism is really on the decline,” Hutchinson added. “And it's going to get worse.”
Greensburg fire officials are seeking recruits whether they want to take advanced training to fight fires or serve in a support role.
Support personnel play a vital role because only about 5 percent of calls involve an actual fire, Hutchinson said.
Support personnel help remove downed trees, do salvage work and pump basements. They may assist ambulance personnel on emergency calls.
Firefighting is rewarding, whether supporting or fighting fires, Hutchinson said, “because you're always helping people.”
Elysia will help out initially, but plans to take all the advanced training.
“I plan to go through the entire program,” she said. “I want to be certified to go in the buildings.”
Hutchinson, who has been chief for 59 years, said he can remember three or four women firefighters in his more than 70 years of service in Greensburg, but never a father-daughter tandem.
Elysia, who does backgrounds checks for the federal government, believes she knows why more young people don't don fire gear.
“I think our society is getting lazy. And they don't want to help out. And they want to get paid,” she said.
She considered joining the military until she found her new calling right in her own back yard.
“I'm technically helping society in a different way,” she said. “I wish there were more girls (joining).”
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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