‘Hurting’ for volunteers, Plum department holds junior fire academy
Teens from Plum and surrounding communities had an opportunity to experience life as a firefighter.
Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department hosted its second annual Junior Fire Academy this month.
Fire Chief Jim Sims said more than 20 cadets learned about vehicle extractions, fire investigations, equipment use and more during the week-long camp.
“It’s under instructions of our people, and we have guests instructors in to make sure stuff is done safely,” Sims said. “They do get hands-on work. It’s the closest thing to being a firefighter. My guys are excited about this week. I have between 14 to 16 members here a day helping out.”
Cadets earned certifications in CPR, first aid, life flight safety, stop the bleed and fire behavior, which is recognized by the state fire academy. Participants were ages 13 to 17.
Allegheny County Deputy Fire Marshal and K-9 handler Michele Gregory led a fire investigations class and demonstrated searches with her dog, Bailey.
She said canines can be used to find people and detect accelerants used when starting fires.
“The fire service is hurting for people, and the best time to get somebody interested is when they’re this age,” Gregory said. “They’re getting exposure to the fire service, EMS, rescue situations and jobs they might not have been exposed to in normal school. It’s always fun to see the kids play with the dog afterwards. They love Bailey and he loves the attention.”
This is the second camp for Jim Callaghan, 14, of Plum. He was one of 13 cadets in the inaugural camp last year and joined Renton Volunteer Fire Department afterward.
Jim said Holiday Park firefighters came to his school, Oblock Junior High, two years ago and got him interested.
“I’ve always wanted to be in emergency services,” he said. “It’s fun. You get to do things that not a lot of people get to do. I think (this camp is) going to help me a lot down the road.”
Sims said education, recruiting and building teamwork and leadership skills are camp goals.
There were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters across the state in the 1970s. Today, there are about 38,000, according to a report released in November by the state House of Representatives.
“We have to do something to jump start the interest,” Sims said. “You have to grab somebody young. We get members in who always wanted to do it, but have been busy with their families. Then the come and join and don’t have the time (to be a firefighter). It’s also our goal to instill community pride. It’s more than just the fire service.”
Dan Felack, marine commander of Lower Kiski Swift Water Rescue, led a water rescue class at Sampson Family YMCA in Plum. Cadets served as rescuers and victims. They used ropes and other equipment to extract people from the pool.
Cadet Josh Roden, 13, of Washington Township said that was one of his favorite activities. He said he plans on joining a fire company in September.
“I’ll know a lot more than some people who haven’t taken this class and be able to do more as a firefighter,” he said.
The cadets also learned about the Fire Volunteer Education, Service and Training Scholarship program through Community College of Allegheny County. The program provides full scholarships for an associate’s degree or certificate program at the school, as well as training at the Allegheny County Fire Academy.
Sims said he received multiple calls from other fire departments and organizations about the fire academy, and Cherry City Volunteer Fire Co. crafted a similar program this year.
“We gave them a lot of our materials and how we did it,” Sims said. “They ran their fire camp. I saw their pictures on their Facebook page. They had really good success.”
Sims said he plans to have the camp again next year.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .