WESTFALL TWP. - Nearly 40 years after joining the Westfall Fire Department, Bernie Swartwood says “fire is still fire.” But, there are different hazards today, smoke for instance, he says is more dangerous and materials in cars like air bags present new issues.
    Growing up behind the Westfall Firehouse, where his grandfather and father were charter members in the 1950’s, Swartwood credits the times he spent at the firehouse with his friends, as part of why he joined the department. The firehouse, he says, was the center of the community where “something was always happening.”
    Before there were junior firemen, Swartwood says he wasn’t fully aware of the entire aspect of volunteering, because once he was a full-fledged member, he had to work bingo and participate in fundraising and training. No longer, was he standing back and watching the firemen wash the trucks.   
    In a matter of five years, from when he first joined, Swartwood was chosen to be the captain of the department. Still at home and commuting to college, Swartwood says he had the time to volunteer, in part because of how much he enjoyed it. Through the years, he went on to hold various positions; from the captain, second assistant chief, assistant chief and chief in the early 1990’s. Those years, he says were good and he learned a lot, plus he feels the department grew as the members worked hard, while also having fun.  
    After his time as chief ended in 1991, Swartwood says he took a step back and isn’t as involved as he once was. When he did do interior though, that was Swartwood's favorite. Still today, he will go on calls, where he drives the fire truck or ambulance. Although climbing ladders was not his, “forte,” the volunteers did what they had to do.
    Training was done in house, with a weekend specifically set in September in a central part of the county. Conducted by chiefs and past chiefs, Swartwood says the volunteers were paid next to nothing or nothing. The instructors, simply shared their knowledge. Although the training was different, Swartwood says the classes were good for the time. Today however, state requirements are more “structured.” Swartwood says he does not feel the training lacked, but it was different with each department having their own requirements.
    Swartwood played a part in starting the junior firemen program and the water rescue program. Today, he still goes on water rescue calls where he dives, is a boat operator and does whatever else needs to be done. With an ambulance core now, Swartwood says Westfall was one of the first in the county, which he also had a hand in bringing to the area.
    Although he was not an EMT, Swartwood was a first responder and is certified to drive an ambulance. Driving an ambulance, he says is quite different than a fire truck because of the size and what is needed to know about the vehicles. Knowing how the equipment works, and controlling the water, he says is critical because someone’s life is on the other end of the hose. 

    Dealing with the aftermath of emergencies, Swartwood says is not always easy because the job is about saving peoples’ lives. Questions often arise after the emergency, where one wonders what could have been done differently. Covering the small communities, he says, is challenging because of the chance of knowing the victims. Once, Swartwood was the first on scene for a medical call and the victim was actually a relative who passed suddenly. Dealing with such instances, he says is tough and everyone handles the situations differently. But, “you do what you have to do, and you deal with it afterwards.” 

     With many departments looking for volunteers, Swartwood says there is a place for everyone in the fire service. He explains that someone may not be able to drive a truck or fight the fire, but knowledge and experience in a different area can be useful to a department.
    Even when he is not volunteering, Swartwood still has his hand in the fire field as he is the Director of Communications at the Pike County Training Center. Being a fireman, for Swartwood means helping people and after nearly 40 years volunteering, he wouldn’t trade his time for anything else. From the fundraising, to working on the trucks, Swartwood says the friendships made have been an added bonus.
    The best part of being a volunteer firefighter, Swartwood says is knowing he is helping his community. Born and raised in the area, and currently living in the region with his wife Mary, Swartwood says it’s important that everyone volunteers in some fashion. Volunteering, he adds is the “right thing to do.”