Pa. fire dept. resumes medical response after yearlong hiatus

Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department is being dispatched to medical incidents after nearly a year of inability to provide that service

By Lorri Drumm
The Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — While most volunteer fire departments cope with declining membership and reductions in services, one local department is bouncing back from some struggles in an effort to #Make27GreatAgain.

As of last Monday, Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department is being dispatched to medical incidents after nearly a year of inability to provide that service.

The department received confirmation from EMMCO West (Emergency Medical Management Cooperative) that its QRS license was renewed, according to Kevin Nicholson, director of the Crawford County Department of Public Safety.

That license will expire April 1, 2021, according to Nate Wardle, emergency preparedness public information officer with the state Department of Health.

A QRS license is issued by the state Department of Health to emergency service agencies to respond to medical calls. Renewal of a QRS license does not cost money, but it does require a certification process with criteria that must be met, according to Bill McClincy, executive director of EMMCO West.

In September, Nicholson told the Tribune that since March 21, 2017, the county had a standing order to dispatch Vernon Central Hose Co. on all of Vernon Township's incidents along with Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department.

Vernon Township VFD's QRS license had expired, which meant it could not be dispatched to medical calls until it was renewed.

In September, Bill Reichel, president of the fire department's Board of Directors, said the department was experiencing a shortage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

The department's chief, Derek Leskowak, has spearheaded a recruitment effort to increase the number of volunteers since he took the position of chief last May.

The department has six EMTs on staff with one currently finishing a class that leads to certification, Leskowak said.

"We'll be up to seven or eight in the next couple months," he said.

There are currently 20 volunteers on the department's roster, including 8 to 10 college students, he said.

One of those college students, the same firefighter currently finishing the EMT class, credits Leskowak with instilling a youth movement that has not only increased numbers on the roster but also created a family atmosphere.

Connor Riley, a junior communications major at Allegheny College, has been volunteering at Vernon Township VFD for nearly two years. Once Riley completes his certification, he will be able to lend a hand a hand on medical calls with the renewal of the QRS license.

"I go on calls sometimes now, but I just observe," he said.

Riley said he has witnessed what he called a "revamping" of the fire department since he has been actively involved.

"Derek (Leskowak) values us and trusts us," Riley said in reference to the college-age firefighters. "He values the experience of the guys who have been around a long time and uses that experience to teach us. He has also brought us in and given us leadership roles."

Riley is a lieutenant with the fire department. He said six of his classmates involved in the fire department are freshmen at Allegheny.

It's common to find Riley and his classmates gathered at the fire department most evenings.

"We hang out there," he said. "We make dinner there and do our homework."

The family atmosphere and some progressive thinking have worked together to attract young members to the fire department, Riley said.

"We used Facebook over the summer to recruit new members," he said. "We're using social media to post when we go out on calls. It keeps people informed and lets them know how much we do."

Riley said he is very enthused about the direction the department is headed after some "down time."

In addition to a shortage of EMTs, the department was forced to return a ladder truck it could no longer afford.

A 2009 Spartan ERV Gladiator custom aerial truck purchased for $840,000 in 2014 was returned to its place of purchase in April 2017. The purchase included a $300,000 loan from the Office of the State Fire Commissioner Volunteer Loan Assistance Program.

The department continues to make the required $1,517.65 monthly payments on the truck. Records from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency show the department is current on the loan through Feb. 1.

In September, Reichel told the Tribune that the loan could potentially be paid off if the truck were sold. Attempts to contact Reichel for comment were not successful.

Leskowak said he is not involved in any business related to the truck.

Riley believes the department is serving the public well with what it has.

"Just last week we were called to a house fire," he said. "We had 11 guys and three trucks. It was great."

Vernon Township Manager/Zoning Officer Robert Horvat said he was glad to hear the department is again able to respond to medical incidents.

"Both township fire departments are vital to the community and both have struggled to retain volunteers," Horvat said. "I would urge anyone interested to get involved."

Department 27 is currently accepting applications for firefighter only, firefighter/EMS or EMS only, Leskowak said. The department will pay for any needed training.

Anyone interested in getting involved may stop by the station at 13227 Dunham Road on Thursday nights at 6:30 or message the department's Facebook page

Copyright 2018 The Meadville Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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