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Pa. nonprofit seeks to support FDs following firefighters’ death

The Northwestern Lehigh Firefighter Foundation was formed by community members after the deaths of two Community Fire Company firefighters


Firefighter Marvin Gruber (left) and Assistant Chief Zachary Paris.

The Community Fire Company/Facebook

By Graysen Golter
The Morning Call

NEW TRIPOLI, Pa. — Over a year after New Tripoli firefighters Zachary Paris and Marvin Gruber died battling a house fire, community members are honoring and supporting firefighters like them with a nonprofit, fundraising, a memorial and more.

“Never want to forget,” New Tripoli fire Chief Gary Kuntz Jr . said. “I think that the foundation is going to help accomplish that, that we’ll truly never forget.”

[RELATED: 2 Pa. firefighters eulogized as ‘humble heroes’]

Community members formed the Northwestern Lehigh Firefighter Foundation after the deaths of Paris and Gruber, and the foundation received its nonprofit status in November. It will support the volunteer firefighters who cover Northwestern Lehigh School District: New Tripoli, Germansville, Lynnport and Weisenberg.

“[Firefighters] show up typically on the worst day of your life to help you,” said Justin Smith, chair of the foundation. “We think they can receive a little bit better recognition for that.”

Germansville Chief Jay Scheffler said he was pleased to see people still care about firefighters and that the foundation goes “above and beyond” what people typically do to help them.

Along with general fundraising, the nonprofit is working on a number of projects to support firefighter training and equipment purchases.

Kuntz highlighted the importance of this, considering that the most ideal certification for his company, Firefighter 1, costs $150 per volunteer. His company doesn’t have access to a fire tax for support.

“Unfortunately, everything’s money,” he said.

The first upcoming project the foundation will put together is a public firefighter appreciation picnic 1-5 p.m. May 4 at Ontelaunee Park in New Tripoli. It will include food trucks, activities for children and live music.

Any firefighters from the four companies, as well as their families, will eat and drink for free, Smith said. The foundation and four companies will split the proceeds from that day equally.

The next project, which Smith said would cost about $125,000 and hopefully be ready this year, is a memorial for the four fire companies at Ontelaunee Park.

According to a visualization on the nonprofit’s website, where the public can also make donations, the memorial would be a stone wall listing the fire companies and depicting four volunteers battling a fire.

Smith said he hopes the memorial highlights how much the community values firefighters and that it can lead to people joining the profession in the future.

“Little kids are going to look at that, and look up to those firefighters, and see that as something aspirational,” he said.

Finally, the foundation is looking to build a family-friendly splash park at Ontelaunee Park. Smith said the nonprofit is still determining what features the park would include.

Smith said the splash park would cost about $450,000. There isn’t a timeline for completion yet.

“The purpose of the splash park was that we didn’t want to remember Zachary and Marvin in this somber fashion,” he said, adding he hopes the park can bring a happier and more fun mood to people when thinking of the two firefighters.

Kylie Adams-Weiss, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, declined to say how much money the organization has raised to date.

Alongside these projects, Smith said the nonprofit will work directly with the fire companies to get input for support efforts and for helping with issues such as staffing, adding that volunteerism isn’t as common as it used to be.

“We’re going to work with them directly to see what they feel is the best way to [help with staffing], but there’s certainly time commitments to training [and] financial commitments to training. We want make sure we lower the barrier of entry for people to get involved,” he said.

Lynnport Fire Company President Heather Utt said her company has about 30 firefighters and would hope to see that number roughly double for better coverage.

“If we would gain some interest through all this [for staffing], that would be fantastic,” she said.

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