Allegheny Mountain Firefighter Initiative reaches goal of 300 trained firefighters

The Allegheny Mountain Firefighters Initiative has been recruiting volunteer firefighters since 2013


Allegheny Mountain Firefighters Initiative 

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. — The Allegheny Mountain Firefighters Initiative (AMFI) hosted by the Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company of Hollidaysburg has reached its goal of 300 newly trained firefighters. Allen Rhine, administrator for the 4-year FEMA SAFER grant said, “It’s been an uphill battle, but we did it. The first two years were slow but in the last 21 months more than half of our member departments have reported reaching or exceeding their membership goals. The best part is that departments are still actively recruiting and training, and based on our last reports we achieved our goal.”

The Allegheny Mountain Firefighters Initiative has been recruiting volunteer firefighters since 2013 with the help of a $5.1 million SAFER grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help local fire departments and municipalities recruit, train and retain volunteer firefighters to be prepared for emergencies of all types.

“When an emergency happens the first thing most people do is call 911. Our goal was to make sure we have enough firefighters to respond when our friends and neighbors call for help”. Said Rhine, “The grant gave us the money we needed to execute and maintain a consistent marketing program. The blend of regional ads on TV, billboards and other media outlets as well as our participation in community events have really boosted public awareness and support.”

Joining the fire department isn’t as easy as just showing up to a meeting. A new recruit must be physically able and willing to respond to alarms. It takes nearly 160 hours of training to become a certified firefighter.

Geeseytown Fire Chief Denny Walls said that two of his newest members became heroes in October of 2016. Walls said, “The Geeseytown Volunteer Fire Department was called to a working dwelling fire with entrapment on the second floor. Engine 30-12 rolled out with 6 firefighters. Orders were given to pull a line to the basement and at the same time perform a rescue of a man hanging out of a second story window. Two of Geeseytown’s newest firefighters performed the rescue and saved the man.”

John Kane, Owner of 911 Enterprise Marketing Solutions-Independent Marketing Consultant for the AMFI said, “This achievement is a tribute to the men and women who have joined, trained and become firefigthers. This is a huge accomplishment. These new members have been improving the effectiveness of the fire service across the area.”

Hope Fire Company of Northern Cambria Borough well exceeded their goal by advancing an additional 24 members to Firefighter 1 certification and 12 members to Firefighter 2. “We’ve always had a solid group of members”, said Matt Barzack. “The biggest thing we got out of the grant was the money we needed to train those members to help us become a bigger and better fire department. We are averaging 18 firefighters per alarm and have doubled the number of calls we can handle. This new growth has allowed us to extend our services to help other communities.”

15 of the 30 fire departments have reached and in some case greatly exceeded their goal to add 10 trained firefighters to their ranks. More departments have new members in training with the potential to reach their goals by the end of 2017.

Jerry Brant, Assistant Chief of Patton Fire Department noted that new firefighters have improved Patton fire department’s ISO PPC rating from a 7 to a 4 during the grant. “This ranking reflects that we have nearly doubled our effectiveness as a fire department, and that’s a huge accomplishment for a rural fire station such as ours”, said Brant.  “Patton is averaging 20 firefighters turning out to fight structure fires. Other mutual aid departments that turn out to assist have asked, what did you guys do? bring a bus?”

The impacts of these new firefighters have been felt throughout the region. One example noted was a string of alarms that occurred on February 23, 2017 in Blair County. On that day, Friendship Volunteer Fire Department from Roaring Spring was called to send their rescue truck to aid Logan Township who was first due on an alarm near Altoona. Before that crew could return, Friendship was called out again for a vehicle fire that was endangering a structure and while those calls were still in play, Friendship was paged for a third alarm to a brush fire near the Blair County airport. “Without our new firefighters, managing 3 calls on a Thursday afternoon would have been impossible,” said Chief Keith Pote.

Kane said, “We’ve been asked if the new firefighters were worth the $5 million that was spent over the last 4 years to attract and train them. If you consider that the cost to hire 300 firefighters to work just one year would be over $12 million, then yes, I think any reasonable person would see that as a very good deal.”

Unfortunately, in some communities, fire departments have only added a few people. In locations like Blue Knob, Tyrone, Gallitzin and Sinking Valley there hasn’t been enough people join to make up for those who work during the day or have other time limitations. Residents of those communities are urged to consider joining their local fire department as soon as possible.

Rhine said, “We can’t control when the fire alarm is going to sound. Most people work during the day so that can put some of the smaller departments in a huge bind. Despite our best efforts, destructive and sometimes fatal fires, still grab the headlines. It is at trying times like these that we must rededicate our efforts to consistently recruit and train more firefighters.”

The AMFI grant benefit period officially closed April 18, 2017, but not before hitting the 300 firefighter goal, and finishing under budget. Thirty fire departments from 5 different counties were part of the AMFI. These departments included Blue Knob, Duncansville, Excelsior/Bellwood, United 14 and 18/Logan Township, Friendship/Roaring Spring, Geeseytown, Lakemont, Martinsburg, Neptune/Tyrone, Phoenix/Hollidaysburg, Pinecroft and Sinking Valley from Blair County. Ashville, Cresson, Gallitzin, Dauntless/Ebensburg, Hope/Northern Cambria, Jackson Township, Loretto, Nanty Glo, Patton, Portage, Revloc, and Spangler/Northern Cambria Borough for Cambria County. Huntingdon Regional, Mill Creek and Mount Union from Huntingdon County, Everett and Saxton from Bedford County and United from Adams County.

“None of this would have been possible without the determination of Phoenix Fire Department to apply for the grant and serve as host department. This is the real story behind the story,” commented Kane. “Most SAFER grants are awarded to a single fire department and are significantly smaller in size and their results. Phoenix made the decision to open participation to other interested fire departments.  Applying for such a large grant could have resulted in the rejection of their application, but they were dedicated to the cause. I believe that their actions and the collective achievements of our initiative will serve as both an inspiration and an example for other fire departments to follow.”

Even though the FEMA grant period has closed, area fire departments are still actively recruiting new members.  Our advertising stopped at the end of March but we are still seeing new people signing up, said Kane. “At an event held on the last day of school in Mount Union, 12 young adults picked up applications to join their local fire department.” You can still join too, For information about joining a volunteer fire department near you, visit, www.JoinVFD.com

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