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Pa. FDs look to high school ‘Fire Club’ to help recruit firefighters

Officials look at the Danville Area High School’s Fire Club as a new way to draw youth to the volunteer fire service

By Anna Wiest
The Daily Item

DANVILLE, Pa. — Area volunteer firefighters think a program offering firefighting classes at school to interested students could solve recruitment issues locally amid a nationwide shortage.

Eric Frantz, a volunteer firefighter in Danville who started Danville Area High School’s Fire Club within the past year, outlined volunteer data to put the issue into perspective.

In the 1970s, an estimated 300,000 Pennsylvanians served their communities as volunteer firefighters. By the early 2000s, that number dropped to around 60,000 and to an estimated 38,000 by 2018, according to Frantz.

“Anyone currently involved in the volunteer fire service knows firsthand that the downward trend is continuing at an alarming rate,” he said.

Frantz, other local volunteers and representatives from the PA State Fire Academy and the Office of the State Fire Commissioner met with Danville school administrators and government representatives last week.

As of last fall, there was a total of six volunteer junior firefighters (grades nine through 12) in Danville representing less than one percent of Danville Area High School’s total population, according to Frantz.

Throughout the past school year, Frantz led the charge to attract a new wave of young volunteers to their local fire departments by hosting interactive events and starting a Fire Club at the Danville Area High School.

“In order to sustain the future of fire protection we (current volunteers) are being forced to get creative, engage the younger generation and introduce them to what volunteer firefighting is all about,” Frantz said. “As students become interested they are connected with a local firehouse where they then hopefully become a member.”

Frantz explained volunteers are required to take classes to safely assist in emergency responses. The classes are typically offered in the evening and on weekends, which can be difficult for students juggling homework, extracurriculars, jobs and social schedules. Many students are also unable to drive which can impact their abilities to attend such classes.

These barriers could all be overcome through a program at the Danville Area High School that would offer students firefighting classes during their normal school day, according to current volunteers.

“It is without a doubt that a program of this nature could dramatically increase the volunteer population in the Danville community,” Frantz said.

Firefighting certifications will not only allow students to volunteer during their time at Danville but will also make them immediately employable upon graduation, Frantz said.

” Danville and surrounding areas are home to several individuals who volunteer locally while working for career departments in the Wilkes Barre / Scranton, Harrisburg, Williamsport, and DC/ Baltimore metro areas,” Frantz said.

Attendees at last week’s meeting where a potential firefighting program was discussed included two Danville school administrators, Superintendent Dr. Molly Nied and High School Principal Dr. Lee Gump, as well as Danville teacher and Fire Club advisor Devon Francke.

Nied said she was grateful for Frantz’s efforts in beginning the Fire Club, which has doubled in size since the beginning of this past school year, and school administrators will continue to support the club and its growth.

Danville’s club is now being used as a model across the state at other districts, according to Nied.

Nied said last week’s meeting gave school officials a better understanding of what a firefighting program within the school day would look like and said the district would continue to explore those possibilities.

“A course won’t be ready for the fall, but we are looking at a long-term commitment to support the volunteer firefighting service in our area,” Nied said.


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Frantz said Nied and Gump were aware of the shortage the community faces and the shortage of youth that is the future of fire service in Montour County.

“The Danville Area School District appears committed to helping play a vital role in helping to create a forum for the students to learn about the opportunities of the volunteer emergency services as well as eventually acquiring certifications in the classroom,” Frantz said.

Others involved in education who attended the meeting were Matthew Hatrak, executive director of Public Safety Training and Certification at Bucks County Community College, and Keith Gunuskey, superintendent at Wallenpaupack Area School District and president of Texas #4 Fire Company in Honesdale, Frantz said.

State Rep. Michael Stender and a representative from State Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver’s officer were also in attendance, according to Frantz.

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