LORDS VALLEY - Over 40 enthusiastic and energetic junior firefighters from Pike and Wayne Counties spent a recent weekend at the Pike County Training Center, learning about a field in which volunteers are greatly needed.
Sunday afternoon, while touring the region, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett visited the facility and met a few of the volunteers, along with Pike County Commissioners Richard Caridi and Matt Osterberg.
State Fire Instructor Robert Aulisio spoke to the juniors about 16 safety initiatives that fire service leaders developed to improve firefighter safety. Although the juniors were minors, the lecture was real-world as the presentation started with a video about firefighter fatalities. The reason, Aulisio said was to make the juniors understand that fighting is a “dangerous business” where the volunteers go into “adverse events,” and areas where people are killed. He warned the students, that they may only have seconds to react to situations where the fire can be so intense that, “You will get burned, you may die. Or, you may be severely burned to where you are in a burn center and disfigured for the rest of your life.”
Training is important, but more so Aulisio, said the individuals have to take care of themselves because as firefighters, a lot is demanded of them as they have to be able to handle both physical and mental circumstances. An overall picture, Aulisio said is that people need to know that on average close to 100 firefighters across the country die and in Pennsylvania over five firefighters die a year.
••• Not a game
Watching the teenagers as he was talking, Aulisio said it was clear the juniors were listening. That, he said is important because firefighting “isn't a game” and firefighting is something that the area volunteers do because it’s in their hearts and they want to help their communities. Aulisio has been a firefighter for years and his son is also a firefighter.
A firefighter with the Forest Volunteer Fire Company Michelle Manzione called the program “phenomenal,” because the junior firefighting weekend almost scares individuals into realizing what the volunteers and professionals are doing in the fire industry.
Following the video, which Manzione said had many in tears; the juniors learned how to use a self-contained breathing apparatus (SBA), practiced vehicle extraction, moved through a dark confinement maze with tight spaces where uncharged wires hung as they had to feel their way through the maze. Sunday, the students climbed into buildings using ladders and hoses that were powerful enough to break windows.
Several of the junior firefighters are students at Wallenpapuack Area High School, where they participate in the emergency responders club. Billy Catanzaro was just one from WAHS. Catanzaro said he decided to become a junior firefighter because it is a great learning experience. Plus, by volunteering, it is a chance to give back to the community. Of the training, Catanzaro admitted that it was more challenging than he anticipated.
A freshman at WAHS, Shelby Milewski is a junior firefighter with the Greene Dreher Company and she participated in the training with her friend Leann Donegan who is also a junior at Greene Dreher. Their reason for participating, both agreed was to help their community. Donegan said the training was, “invigorating,” and very hands-on. Carrying the air packs on their backs and using the charged hoses, both juniors agreed was the hardest part of the training. Once they are 18-years-old, the young women plan to pursue the firefighting training to become interior firefighters. There were only a few female juniors present last weekend, to which Milewski said is problematic because women can do the work too.
A junior firefighter with the Greene Dreher Company, Robert Mattern said the weekend was a great experience because he learned a lot. Having participated in the training before, Mattern said he was surprised at how different the training was this year. Carrying the charged hose through a building Mattern called, “exhausting.”
Originally, Michael Dilatusth started participating in the program for his senior project where he had to complete 30 hours. Those hours, turned into four years. For Dilatusth, the maze was the most challenging part because each maze is different. The best part though, he said, is climbing the ladders.
A junior at WAHS, Casey Homer decided to become a junior firefighter because he “found it fascinating,” and members of his family are involved in the field. For Homer, holding the hose when it’s charged is the hardest part. He was surprised to learn the different ways of opening doors and the different techniques that are required.
Aulisio said he was impressed by the turnout of juniors. The training, he added was a chance to show the trainees the seriousness of what they are committing too. Some, he noted will be leaders and with that, the appropriate amount of time needs to be given to educating them as they, “are our future, the next in line, running the department.”
Correction: The photo that was published on the front page of the Wednesday edition of a junior firefighter shaking Governor Corbett's hand was misidentified. The young woman in the picture is Alyssa Tirella, a Junior Lieutenant from Forest Volunteer Fire Department. Sorry Alyssa, Katie