LORDS VALLEY - Once again, a few teens eager to learn more, spent a recent weekend soaking up the knowledge experienced volunteer firefighters were sharing at the Pike County Training Center, during Junior Weekend.

During the two-day program, the juniors were given an overview of what it can take to extinguish a fire, by becoming familiar with the various tools firefighters need. While juniors cannot go into a fire, they are there to assist the firefighters by placing tools that will be used to fight the blaze or at a car accident.

A volunteer firefighter at Forest Volunteer Fire Department, Lee Viola explained that portable ponds are set up because many communities don’t have fire hydrants and consequently, the tankers must have water to fight the fires. The water is taken from a pond or lake and then the portable ponds that can hold 3,000 gallons of water, are filled with that water. The water from the port ponds are pumped to engines, which is then utilized to extinguish the fire. But the size of the fire, may require additional tankers. For a structure fire, Viola said six to eight tankers may be needed, but the tankers may have to leave the scene to get more water. Viola who has been a volunteer firefighter since 1982, recalled a structure fire in Blooming Grove that drained two ponds because so much water was needed. 

This year 32 juniors, ranging from 14 to 17 years old participated in the annual weekend. At another station, the juniors learned how to extricate a patient from a car if there was an accident, using the various tools. Then, they learned about the proper way to use ladders as they must know how to climb, using the three points of contact. There was also information about fire suppression, where the juniors learned how to crawl through a building while carrying a charged hose. While a firefighter cannot go into a burning building until they are 18, the juniors can learn all aspects of the job so they are prepared for when they turn 18. All volunteer firefighters in the state have to take an essentials class, which Viola explained is a basic class broken into four modulars. Juniors, if they are 14 can take the first three modulars and once they are 18, they can take the fourth, which is a live burn.

Down from 60

The first junior weekend was four years ago where more than 60 teens chose to participate. The decline, Viola called “unfortunate.” While the 32 juniors was still great, because volunteers in the fire service is “dwindling” more are needed. When Viola joined Forest in 2011, there were nine juniors; today there are two. When he first started volunteering over 30 years ago, Viola said he knew if his home was on fire, a volunteer was going to be the one to save it and so, he realized how important volunteer firefighters are. Once a person volunteers, Viola said “it gets in you and you don’t want to stop.” Despite the long hours and continuous training, Viola enjoys it all “tremendously.” In part, because there is a camaraderie that extends beyond Pike County, as he meets other firefighters and there is a “feeling of family.”

To do the job, Viola stressed the need for “training, training, training” because a fire doesn't care whether a person is paid or volunteer and so, training is essential. If more people don’t start volunteering, he sees the departments within the county merging. Social members too, are important because knowledge is a resource and so, someone in the community who may be an accountant can then help the department as a treasurer. People are able to help in many ways, Viola said, besides getting on a fire truck and fighting the fires, because social members are needed for events.

At the vehicle extrication station, Viola explained that at car accidents after ensuring the scene is safe, the volunteers will then stabilize the vehicle by placing wooden chocks at the wheels. Once the car is stabilized, the first responders can work to extract the victims. While the juniors cannot use the tools at actual accidents yet, they did get a “feel of the tools” during the training weekend. At an actual scene though, they do set the tools out for the responders who can do the actual extrication.

When a ladder truck arrives at a fire, Viola said the volunteer firefighters “size up the building” by walking around the exterior to see if anyone is at the windows or if there is fire. Then, ladders are put on every side of the building, in case someone needs to get into the building from the outside. By having the ladders at the windows, the firefighters know if they can escape if necessary. A ladder truck, usually carries seven to eight ladders, and then engine trucks have two Viola said. Before climbing a ladder, someone must always foot it at the bottom to ensure it is stabilized.

Packing hoses

Rather than packing a hose back onto an engine, the juniors practiced packing hoses onto hose beds, made of wood. For structure fires, 200 foot hoses are sufficient. If there is a large dwelling where an engine can only get so close, a larger hose would be needed. Because the hose will be wet when they’re done, it isn’t packed back onto the truck Viola said, instead its rolled up into a “donut roll” and brought back to the firehouse where it’s laid out to dry. A wet hose can mold and deteriorate.

With fire hydrants in some of the communities in the area, the juniors also learned how to hook hoses up to them. The process starts with opening the smaller side and doing three to four turns to flush the hydrant. Flushing hydrants isn’t as necessary in this region, as it is in a city Viola explained, where drug dealers staff drugs. If the hydrant isn’t flushed, something could get stuck in the hose. 

A junior at Maplewood Volunteer Fire Department, Esmeralda Mendez has been involved in the department for two years. At Mendez’s second junior weekend, the vehicle extrication was “great” because she finally learned strategies to address different situations she said. Using the tools, she found to not be overly difficult, it wasn’t easy keeping them still. But, seeing how easily the cutters cut a door off the hinges was “amazing.”

Grandfather inspired her

Also from Maplewood, Alesha Young was at her second junior weekend. She decided to get involved because of her grandfather and that there aren’t “enough women in the fire service” she said. While she was familiar with many of the lessons, the weekend reminded Young that “communication is key.” She explained that during the junior weekend, she was working with juniors from other departments who, possibly do some things differently than those from Maplewood. Of the various components of the weekend, Young like climbing ladders because she likes heights.

A junior from Waymart Volunteer Fire Department, Tiffany Glosenger was at her first junior weekend, although she has been involved in the department for two years. She joined with a friend and soon learned it was all “pretty cool” she said. The responsibility is “fun,” as she interacts with others and has to work hard. In the first day of training, Glosenger had learned about engines and moving ladders. Carrying a hose upstairs was “definitely” more challenging, as she carried the hose on her shoulder. While Glosenger had done it all before, she said the reality is that the volunteers have to “work at it” because to do the job it “takes practice to get it right.”

The Training and Operations Manager at the center, Jordan Wisniewski said the juniors did great. The first day the MedEvac came, which the juniors then visited. The juniors were “motivated” to participate in the weekend. The juniors were from departments across Pike County as well as Lackawanna and Wayne counties. The first day, Wisniewski said the juniors were learning the skills, whereas Sunday they applied what they learned during a simulated fire that included a victim rescue. 

Having experienced volunteer firefighters training juniors, that Wisniewski said is important because they were sharing their knowledge with others in their communities who need to learn the jobs.

For more information about junior weekend, contact Jordan Wisniewski at the Pike County Training Center at jwisniewski@pikepa.org or 570-296-1960.