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Pa. fire academy students learn firefighting skills via Zoom

Schuylkill County fire recruits’ latest training focuses on fire behavior and equipment, all through an online platform purchased with CARES Act funding


Fire school classes would normally be held in person at the Schuylkill County Emergency Services Training Center, but were switched to the online format to curb the spread of the virus.

Photo/Schuylkill County Emergency Services Training Center

Christine Lee
Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

FRACKVILLE, Pa. — Thanks to technology, students learning to become firefighters in the county can continue their training despite the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday night, two groups started the second and third of four training modules via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Instructors conducted the lessons from the Schuylkill County Emergency Services Training Center in West Mahanoy Township near Frackville with students logging in on the platform and projected on screens in two classrooms.

Pottsville Fire Chief James Misstishin, a state fire instructor, lead Mod 3, a 52-hour course with 20 students that touched on firefighting equipment. Meanwhile, Kevin Sibbett, a state fire instructor, went over fire behavior with 35 students in Mod 2, which is 32 hours.

Completion of the modules enable the students, who are probationary firefighters, to become volunteer firefighters.

Instruction for students in Mod 3 had started last spring but was halted when the pandemic started. Tuesday night was the first night it resumed.

Students who participated in the modules came from fire companies in Deer Lake, Girardville, Minersville, Muir, Pine Grove, Pottsville and Schuylkill Haven, and Wiconisco in Dauphin County.

Fire school classes would normally be held in person at the fire academy and start in April, but they were switched to the online format to curb the spread of the virus.

Frank Zangari, the fire school chairman, said the virtual classes allow the students to stay consistent with the training and to be educated at their level. He added that he misses the in-person interaction.

Students in both modules will come to the academy toward the end of the sessions for hands-on instruction in small groups so students can maintain social distancing.

“We had to change how we teach and when we teach to continue to have the fire service of tomorrow,” Zangari said.

The technology meant the modules started 60 days earlier than usual, with instructors learning about the software at the end of January and students starting last month. The first session, Mod 1, was completed several weeks ago, Zangari said.

The equipment cost between $17,000 and $18,000 and was purchased using money from the federal CARES Act, administered through the county commissioners, said David Sattizahn, president of the Schuylkill County Firefighters Association.

County Commissioners George F. Halcovage Jr. and Gary J. Hess stopped by to watch the classes Tuesday night.

“We needed to do this as fire schools were shut down last March due to COVID,” Sattizahn said.

Zangari said doing the Zoom lessons gets the students excited for the hands-on training component of the modules.