Annual Fire Rescue & EMS Expo in Monroeville features equipment, seminars

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Visitors to the 26th annual Pittsburgh Fire Rescue & EMS Expo go to see the newest equipment, learn about new techniques for firefighting and rescues, and network with fellow emergency responders, the majority of whom volunteer their time to protect the safety of their communities, said Harold Katofsky, chief of Monroeville Volunteer Fire Company No. 6.

This is an expo showing the newest and most modern firefighting, rescue and emergency-medical-services equipment,” said Katofsky, 57, who has helped with the show since it began.

The expo, which is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Monroeville Convention Center, is the third largest of its kind in the United States, said Kelly Simon of Greensburg, owner of Simon Event Management and expo organizer.

“This is the show they come to and make their purchases,” Simon said.

“The entire Monroeville Convention Center will be sold out.”

More than 60 firetrucks, ambulances and other emergency apparatus will be on display, and between 160 and 170 exhibitors from all over the tri-state area will show the newest equipment in fire and emergency management, Simon said.

Being able to physically see the different features on pieces of equipment is like kicking tires in an auto showroom, Katofsky said.

“They can walk up to the firetrucks and see the construction,” Katofsky said. “If they want to, they can stand or hang on the doors and see which one is better.”

Jason Burns, 26, the chief of the North Apollo Volunteer Fire Department, said he goes to the expo every year to see the newest technology and equipment.

“There is always something new out there,” Burns said. “And when you get everything under one roof, you can compare it.”

Robin Pittman, vice president of Fire Force, a Butler County-based supplier of firefighting equipment, has been going to the expo for over 20 years. While the company displays smaller items, such as boots and gloves, the event is more about exposure and networking for the company, Pittman said.

“We're always trying to give fire services what they want to see at the fire show,” said Pittman, of Seven Fields. “Through all the input we get, we'll try to continue making this a better and better show.”

In addition to the exhibits, a group of firefighters from Breezy Point, N.Y., will make a presentation about their struggles in Superstorm Sandy, which caused a firestorm, tidal-surge flood and hurricane-force winds when it hit the small community in the borough of Queens.

“It's a really good learning experience for our volunteers,” Simon said. “So they can come to shop and also sit in on a presentation of lessons learned.”

Marty Ingram, chief of the Point Breeze Fire Department in Breezy Point, said that he and his team have done presentations for church congregations, but this will be their first time talking to other firefighters and emergency personnel.

“I think it's going to be a two-way street,” Ingram said. “It will be a good exchange of information, and I think it will be educational and raise everyone's professionalism.”

They will start the presentation by talking about the events of the day when Superstorm Sandy hit the New York City area at the end of October 2012 and finish with a question-and-answer session with the audience, said Ingram, 62,

“We're not only going to talk about the events but also the recovery efforts,” Ingram said. “We were deeply involved in helping the whole community.”

A slide show will help the audience understand the fire department's obstacles, but people really can't comprehend the damage and desolation unless they have been there, Ingram said.

In the past, the expo has hosted groups such as Hurricane Katrina volunteers and workers from 9/11's Ground Zero, Simon said.

“When there is a disaster and rescue attempts are successful and there are lessons to be learned, we do try to incorporate that into the program in addition to the exhibits,” Simon said.

Booth space also is set aside for fire companies at no charge so they have room for fundraising activities, including the used-equipment flea market, in which specialized fire and emergency equipment can be bought and sold for good prices, Simon said.

Chris Grimes, vice president and lieutenant of Monroeville Volunteer Fire Company No. 5, said his department sells T-shirts to raise money and also uses the event as a recruitment tool.

“You don't always need to buy something,” Grimes, 38, said. “But the camaraderie and seeing old friends is what I always look forward to.”

The expo is a great opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with others, Pittman said.

“It's kind of fun to see old friends who you just see at shows like this,” Pittman said. “We have a broad spectrum of people who will be there.”

The fire expo is a project close to Simon's heart because she started the show after her father, a volunteer firefighter for more than 50 years, suggested that Pittsburgh have a fire show.

“When you're at the show, you can feel the energy and the enthusiasm,” Simon said. “There is such camaraderie. These guys are brothers, and they don't even know each other.”

Simon's grandfather also a volunteer firefighter.

Katofsky said that not only is his son a junior firefighter, his daughter has been going to the annual expo since she could “sit up in the stroller.”

The annual fire show began at the former Monroeville ExpoMart in 1988 and briefly declined in attendance when the ExpoMart closed about five years ago, and Simon had to move the show to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The fire expo moved to the Monroeville Convention Center in 2010, and Simon said she plans to keep it there indefinitely.

Nearly 5,000 fire and EMS personnel are expected to attend, Simon said.

“It's a great place for these men to get together and talk about what they've learned and how they can help each other,” Simon said. “They are volunteers, so we try to do whatever we can to provide a great event for them.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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