Pa. county hosts honor guard training for first responders

The initiative aims to train and organize emergency personnel to create protocols for ceremonies, funerals, and other official events, akin to military honor guards


Zack Hoopes
The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — Cumberland County hosted an honor guard training program this week to coordinate funerals and other formal events honoring first responders.

The initiative — a nationwide effort put on by a company based in Florida — aims to help train and organize local emergency personnel to have their own protocols in place for ceremonies, funerals, and other official events, akin to military honor guards.

"It's intense. It's a full week of class," said Mechanicsburg Police Department Lt. Brian Curtis, who completed the course last year and helped to organize this week's class.

The goal, Curtis said, would be to have such a class take place in Cumberland County every other year in order to help the county's police, fire, EMS, and other first responders coordinate an honor guard system.

The program attracts first responders from all over the nation; although this week's class was organized in part by the county's public safety department, the majority of participants came up from Maryland and Virginia, Curtis said.

While participants rehearsed a number of ceremonial duties, much of the focus is on funerals for current and former first responders, including potential line-of-duty deaths.

On Thursday, in conjunction with Buhrig Funeral Home, participants staged a mock funeral rehearsal at Mechanicsburg Cemetery, complete with the presentation of colors, flag folding, a bugler and bagpipe, and other elements.

"The focus is on the family, the department to make sure you give them the opportunity to heal," said Claudia Garner with the Cumberland County Department of Public Safety.

Garner herself took the honor guard course six months, she said, before having to put it to use for the funeral of Jerome Guise, the Mount Holly Springs firefighter was killed in a house fire in March of 2020.

The course is put on by National Honor Guard Academy, a company founded by instructor Doug Swartz, himself a firefighter and Marine veteran. The course is funded by a per-student fee that is typically paid for by departments or community donors, Swartz said.

"We base our stuff on the military," said Swartz, who estimated he's been doing drill training for almost 35 years. "That's what we've tried to do, is take those military standards and adapt them for public safety agencies."

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(c)2021 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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