Firefighting volunteers

Representatives from 12 area fire companies, the Ohio State Fire Academy and Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office were among those on hand Tuesday during the first-ever community meet and greet event for area firefighters.

The purpose of the meet-and-greet was two-fold, according to Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham who helped coordinate the event with Warren Township Fire Chief Mark Wile and John Burdette, director of Washington State Community College’s new Center for Public Safety Training.

“The numbers are down for volunteer firefighters locally, so this is kind of a recruitment event for area departments, but it’s also a way for the community college to let potential students know about the firefighter training that starts this year,” Durham said.

He’s seen the need for trained firefighters from the viewpoint of a professional as well as a volunteer with the Warren Township Volunteer Fire Department.

“I started as a volunteer firefighter and then was fortunate enough to be hired by the Marietta Fire Department where I’ve worked for 15 years,” Durham said. “We’ll talk to anyone interested in a career, but there’s a definite and immediate need for more firefighters in the volunteer community.”

Gerald Robinson, deputy superintendent of the Ohio Fire Academy, a division of the State Fire Marshal’s Office in Reynoldsburg, agreed.

“State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers and his staff have been going to various areas, talking to local firefighters and departments about their needs,” Robinson said. “Many expressed a lack of volunteers, so we’re now trying to help boost those numbers for local volunteer fire departments.”

That’s where Washington State Community College comes in.

“We do a lot of firefighter training-classes that run from four hours to seven weeks in length at the Ohio Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg,” Robinson explained. “But offering that training here at Washington State would be a great help to the local community. So this is part of an effort to build a program that will allow the college to offer certified fire training.”

Claudia Owens, director of communications for WSCC, said the college will offer initial firefighter training beginning this fall.

“Surrounding counties rely heavily on volunteer fire companies, and we’ll be hosting trainings for volunteer firefighters here at the college,” she said.

Owens said WSCC is planning to expand its public safety program that already includes peace officer and emergency medical technician training. In September the college will open its Public Safety Academy that will also include 36 hours of fire training, required for those who want to join a volunteer fire department.

“We’re seeing a definite need for more public safety training,” Owens added. “In 2011 across the nation 69 percent of firefighters were volunteers, and three out of four were serving communities with populations of 25,000 or less. That indicates training is a real need in rural areas like Washington and surrounding counties.”

Burdette said the idea for adding firefighter training originated with Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.

“He told (WSCC President) Brad Ebersole that the community needed a fire school,” Burdette said. “So we went to the State Fire Marshal’s Office and they were extremely supportive of the idea. They were behind us 100 percent, and that really got things rolling.”

Working with the State Fire Marshal and Ohio Fire Academy, WSCC was able to offer the 36-hour firefighter course this fall, with an eventual objective of offering firefighter 2-level courses that are required for professional career firefighters.

Career firefighters must have a minimum of 240 hours of training to qualify for a paid firefighter position.

“Eventually we hope the college will be able to offer an associate’s degree in fire science,” Robinson said.

Tuesday’s event did bring some success for the Warren Township Volunteer Fire Department which received at least three applications from individuals interested in joining the program.

“I’ve always thought about joining. My dad’s a Warren Township trustee who has always worked with the department, so I decided to sign up today,” said township resident Hank Benedict, 33.

An employee with the Belpre Wastewater Treatment Plant, he said the training he receives could also be beneficial in the event of an emergency at work.

Benedict’s friend, Adam Green of Warren Township, also 33, filled out an application, too.

“I have a couple of friends who have been firefighters for about eight years now, and since we moved into the township I’ve been asked about joining the fire department, so I signed up,” he said. “I work shifts though, so being able to respond to fires will probably depend on which shift I’m working.”

Both men said they planned to take the required 36-hour volunteer firefighter course at WSCC.

Wile noted most volunteer fire companies cover the cost of the course for new recruits.

“In essence they get the course for free-and we’re reimbursed from a special fire training fund by the state,” he said.

Jeff Lauer, director of Washington County’s Emergency Management Agency, said although training is required for both volunteer and professional firefighters, it’s not hard to obtain that training for anyone interested and dedicated enough to pursue it.

Lauer also serves as fire chief for the Fearing Volunteer Fire Company and noted several paid career firefighters also serve as volunteers with local departments.

“People don’t understand what a great asset the local volunteer fire departments are,” he said. “And events like this meet and greet provide a way for people to see what both volunteer and paid firefighters do-and this allows them to meet and talk with area chiefs and VFD members.”

Tuesday’s event, held in the upper parking area at WSCC, sported an entire lineup of fire trucks and other firefighting vehicles, as well as fire equipment demonstrations, including Jaws of Life metal-cutting exhibitions on two vehicles that were donated by J.D. Byrider.