Hindu ceremony to protect Franklin Park’s volunteer fire department held
Raja Pragallapati didn’t dream of becoming a firefighter when he was growing up in India.
But the 43-year-old software engineer says he has always been open to the idea of serving his community in some fashion.
“My dad is an (Indian) air force veteran and my son is a member of the junior Air Force ROTC program at North Allegheny,” said Pragallapati, who moved to Franklin Park with his family four years ago. “I always wanted to get involved in public service and firefighting is one way I felt was approachable.”
The realization that the borough’s fire department relies solely on volunteers came several years ago when they responded to his home for a broken water pipe, Pragallapati said.
“Until that day, I thought it was a paid department,” he said.
Fire department President Bob Jarvis said he began “gently” recruiting Pragallapati following the water-pipe incident.
“I saw Raja around town a few times and we’d stop to chat,” said Jarvis. “We’ve done pretty well with our membership, but we’re always looking for opportunities to bring new people into the service. So whenever we talked, I’d bring it up to him.”
The fire department has a roster of 70 members, which include about 40 who regularly respond to calls.
Pragallapati said he made the decision to give firefighting a try after receiving a formal recruiting letter from Jarvis.
“I’ve enjoyed the training as well as the camaraderie that goes along with being part of a fire department,” he said. “They’ve really made my family and I feel welcome. So I thought it would be nice to honor them for their service to the community.”
To mark the annual Hindu celebration of Raksha Bandhan — loosely translated as the “protection connection” — members of Franklin Park’s Indian community gathered at the fire station Aug. 22 to tie brightly colored “rakhi” amulets around the wrists of firefighters and their families, and anoint their foreheads with “tilak,” a paste made from turmeric and saffron that is used in Hindu ceremonies.
The ceremony was held “to show gratitude for the selfless service that is being provided to the community and to pray for their well-being and success,” Pragallapati said.
Practitioners of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh celebrate the holiday as “Universal Oneness Day” and broaden its scope from the family to the community “with the simple idea that we should all love and protect each other,” Pragallapati said.
Jarvis said members of the department welcome the expression of appreciation.
“It’s very encouraging to have members of our community do something like this for us. We really love it,” he said.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .