Rural training program helps to fill a serious shortage of volunteer firefighters

Giordano Rosenfeld

CONNESVIL, Pennsylvania – For the most part, the shortage of firefighters and ambulance technicians in Pennsylvania is getting worse every year. Almost everything (96.8%) Commonwealth firefighters are volunteers, and their numbers have been declining for decades. But about an hour south of Pittsburgh in Fayette County there is a training program that will help fill the gap.

Government officials were the first to start beats the alarm that Pennsylvania residents, especially those “living outside the cities,” have “miserably inadequate” protection from fire and other emergencies, according to a 1976 report by the Governor’s Fire Prevention and Control Commission. There were 300,000 volunteer firefighters in the state at the time; y 2018there were 38,000 people in Pennsylvania.

Fire companies are not required to report the number of active personnel, so it is unclear how the pandemic affected the number of volunteer firefighters in the state.

Students of the Career & Technical Center Connellsville Area Career & Technical Center Gareth Shearer (left) and Leland Hollis (right) in Protective Services pose for a photo with their teacher Ron Barry (center) in the classroom (photo Pittsburgh City Paper).

EMS Pennsylvania suppliers say they are can’t find enough paramedics or paramedics, and like Jerry Scar, director of Lancaster ambulance operations, said PennLive in November 2021, “things are falling apart.” According to National Rural Health AssociationThe shortage of qualified EMT entrants is “universal” in rural areas, due to, among other conditions, low and aging populations, fewer qualified ambulance trips that would allow trainees to obtain certificates in emergencies, and difficult economic conditions.

Fire Protection Chief Ron Barry’s program at the Connelsville Area Career and Technical Center in Fayette County is one of many local training programs involved in addressing this staffing crisis, recruiting and training high school students to become the next generation of firefighters and medical professionals. workers.

During a recent class visit, Barry said Pittsburgh City Newspaper it is a “tripartite program” that includes instructions on firefighting, emergency medicine and law enforcement.

“We’re probably doing more industry certifications than any other program here. Just because we have a lot to offer, ”Barry said, referring to certificates for driving an ambulance, awareness of hazardous materials and safety certificates on the highway for emergency responders.

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Fifteen minutes after attending Barry’s class a student from another program arrived with an injury he received in rude treatment with his brother. Because Barry is a veteran paramedic, teachers send injured students to him when there is no nurse in the building.

“Many times kids jump right away because they’re trained and they know what to do,” Barry said, noting that his students must pass CPR certification and first aid. Barry recommends an 18-year-old junior named Harley wrap the victim’s wrist.

“This is an industrial school. Accidents happen, children are cut. Culinary, they work with knives; welding, they themselves burn. So we are ready for anything, ”Barry said.

The Bari Shop, as students call each of Canelsville’s 13 programs, has standard equipment that students study, such as 911 Dispatch Station, a fleet of emergency vehicles including a fire truck, a fire hydrant donated by a local water company, complete PPE, and 14 -foot tower made by students from the school carpentry program. (Barry adds that mason students poured concrete on its foundation, and welder students screwed it to the wall.)

Each year, students practice evacuation from a burning building using a digital fire simulator that creates a harmless special smoke effect so they can train safely in zero visibility. They dress in full firefighting gear, including self-contained breathing apparatus, and evaluate their ability to put on PPE in two minutes or less. According to Barry, the fire simulator has a digital LCD TV with a digital flame, and the TV is designed so that you can blow it up with a fire hose while the flame responds to water.

“I can make it flare up again,” he said. “I can produce more smoke, I can change the fire class from conventional flammable liquids to flammable liquids to electric with appropriate sound effects.”

Hannah Upton, a student at the Canelsville Career and Technical Center, is going through an ideal script as part of a classroom security services program (photo from Pittsburgh City Paper).

The student enters the room to inform Barry that the child with the wrapped wrist has numb fingers. Barry returns to class and recognizes the patient.

“Oh, so you’re Patrick’s brother,” he said. “You guys have a scary story with your hands.”

“We are,” the student agreed.

“You didn’t break through the wall, did you?”

“No, I’m not him.”

Examining his hand, Barry sends the student for a packet of ice.

– And fingers split? “She’s swollen.” “Yes, look at the side of his hand.”

Concerned students watch as the group reviews their observations after studying it.

“I told him to straighten his arm a little bit and he was fine, and then as soon as his arm straightened up, I put two fingers on Harley’s help and he was able to put pressure on me,” said Gareth, a 15-year-old volunteer firefighter. from the Springfield Township volunteer campaign, which after high school plans to enlist in the Army.

When it comes to enrollment, Barry does more than his share to attract potential students.

“As fire chief, we really need volunteer firefighters,” he said. Recruitment efforts sometimes begin during the annual summer camp he conducts for middle school students interested in the high school security services program. According to Sean Little, the CACTC’s workforce development coordinator, summer camp is a key tool for recruitment.

“I’ll tell you, the people who set up camps for high school have their programs full,” she said. “Those who do not do harm to children.”

In addition to focusing on hiring, Little says they are generally trying to change the stigma of career and technical education, part of which is gender bias.

This year, 60% of Bari’s security service students are girls, a few percent more than last year. Few called these “unconventional figures” because most people men work in security services.

Barry says the girls he taught are usually more interested in EMS than in law enforcement, but “they also like forensics and CSI.”

Makaila, an 18-year-old senior girl who plans to become a doctor, said “many people think women can’t be doctors or firefighters because we are small. There’s a lot of lifting, but some women are really getting to do it, and it’s amazing. ”

“I like helping people, and I like that it’s fast,” she said, adding that she also likes to know that the demand for medical care is high.

Fayette EMS, one of the industry partners in the security services program, has hired every EMT graduate it has ever sent, according to Barry, who says he is proud that CACTC has released “quite a few volunteer firefighters, quite a lot of EMT.”

“Every year,” said Makaila, “we have more and more girls, and it’s amazing to see how interested they are.”

Giordano Rosenfeld is a Pittsburgh City Paper reporter, where this story first appeared.

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