Fighting fires only part of job for department live-ins

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 10:41 a.m.

The life of a live-in is a double-edged sword.

On the surface, Jake Kennedy, 20, seems like an average tenant. He cleans, cooks, and takes out the trash.

But he doesn't pay rent.

Instead, he answers phone calls, conducts maintenance checks, and fights fires. Such is the life of a fire department live-in.

He has been a part of the program at Monroeville Fire Department No. 5 on Seco Road for two years.

“You're just living in a little home or apartment,” said Kennedy, a native of DuBois, Clearfield County.

“But at the same time you're staffing the fire trucks, ambulances, and you respond to any emergency.”

As a firefighter and emergency medical technician, he said the live-in program is a chance to gain experience.

Live-ins are firefighters or emergency medical technicians who live in the station 24 hours a day, five days a week.

Two days are allotted for personal business.

They do this while working or attending classes.

The program started in the 1970s, when students were searching for places to stay. Station Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6 have live-ins, while Station No. 3 does not.

Monroeville is one of a few volunteer fire departments in Western Pennsylvania with a live-in program.

Walter Valasek, southwest director for the Fireman's Association of the State of Pennsylvania, said that such a program is great for people who want to become firefighters.

“Older firemen can give them good guidance,” Valsek said. “If they are in the station, they can get to know the equipment, which can save lives.”

The five live-ins in Station No. 5 are Kennedy; Capt. Ben Rudd, 24; Phillip Davis, 23; Josh Slagel; and Tyler Magyar, 20.

Davis has been a live-in for six months and said the experience has been the best preparation for becoming a paid firefighter.

“You get the feel of how a fire department really works instead of how it's supposed to work,” Davis said.

During an emergency, volunteers have to leave their homes at a moment's notice. The live-ins, who are unpaid, are immediately available.

“It's very important because we are so busy,” said Ronald G. Harvey, chief of the Monroeville Fire Department. “These guys handle call after call after call.”

Live-ins' responsibilities vary depending on their training.

Even when there is not an emergency, there still is work to be done.

Live-ins must keep the station clean by sweeping, mopping and scrubbing.

They also are responsible for cleaning vehicles, power tools and bathrooms.

“This isn't a freebie,” Harvey said. “Every Sunday night and every Wednesday night they have duties to do.”

Most live-ins already have experience before applying.

Alex Plutto is joining the live-in program in August when classes start. Pluto, 18, from Kennedy Township, is studying nursing at Community College of Allegheny County.

Plutto is part of an increasing number of students attracted to the live-in program, Harvey said.

He attributes the increase to CCAC Boyce in Monroeville, which brought more students to the area.

“We have found over the years that if you have someone who isn't going to school, drops out of work, and just kind of becomes a couch potato, it causes problems,” Harvey said. “We don't want deadbeats.”

Prerequisites for becoming a live-in include having a high school diploma or GED, and being 18 or older and a Pennsylvania resident.

Interviews and background checks are part of the selection process.

Live-in programs are destined to become more frequent as the number and intensity of emergencies increase, Harvey said.

A person can remain a live-in for as long as they can perform, he said.

Harvey said many live-ins use the chance to strengthen their skills before moving on to other endeavors.

During their residency, they stay in a room with bunk beds lining each wall. The maximum number of live-ins that Station 5 can hold is 12.

Despite the advantage of being a live-in, it is not without drawbacks.

“The calls come in 24 hours a day,” Kennedy said. “There's nothing that changes. Sometimes, you're trying to get a good night's sleep, which never happens.”

David Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5804 or

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