A new course for high school students is helping to ensure qualified participants are available.
The Franklin County Public Safety Training Center in cooperation with the Franklin County Career and Technology Center is currently conducting a fire and rescue program, offering students the opportunity to graduate as certified firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
With a shortage of emergency service personnel impacting departments locally and across the country, the program is intended to help supply qualified young individuals straight out of high school.
"Students are going to be nationally certified firefighters and nationally certified EMTs by passing this program, which makes them immediately hireable," said Ben Holmquist, fire instructor and program coordinator. "When they leave here, they'll be able to be employed as firefighters or EMTs after just this one semester."
The FCPSTC has contracted agreements with Bucks County Community College for the firefighter training and the Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Department EMS Training Institute for the EMS training.
The course is offered in the spring semester of the school year, consisting of classroom lessons and real-life, hands-on training exercises.
"This program is an exceptional illustration of the value of the training center and its commitment to all the public service first responders," said Waynesboro Police Chief James Sourbier IV, who is also the chairman of the FCPSTC. "It will help fill that staffing void in our fire and emergency medical services. Our goal is to continue to do that each spring semester."
In its first session, nine students are enrolled, each gaining experience and certifications that set a path of service after graduating.
"This course offers a more complete curriculum," said David Zanelli, a senior from Waynesboro. "I think it's a great way to not only promote doing something good for the community, but getting younger people interested in this type of profession, especially because of the volunteer firefighter shortage. It's a good way to introduce new people to a very rewarding occupation."
Zanelli, who is affiliated with the Waynesboro Fire Department, is recognized as the battalion chief of the current class.
"I've been dying for this opportunity," Zanelli explained. "It's a very well put together program, they've got some great instructors running it.
"After this you get a pretty solid resume, Fire 1, EMT, you're part-time firefighter material as soon as you come out of this course."
To enroll in the program, students must be affiliated (or sponsored by) a fire department and eligible to graduate based on previous grades. Because of certification stipulations, Holmquist suggests students are either 18 years of age or will be 18 within a year of completing the course.
"This is a vital program because they are coming out fully trained to ride a fire truck," Waynesboro Assistant Fire Chief John Beck said. "With volunteers dwindling, getting the young kids interested in serving their community is getting harder. This allows them during school time to get the training and their school credits completed. I wish it were there when I was training."
Offering the course during normal school hours was a priority when implementing the program.
"Our big thing is the quality of life for the students by getting them in here during the day while they're at school rather than in the evenings," Holmquist said. "In the evenings, kids can't play baseball, can't run track, all the things kids should be able to do if they want. Getting it during the day was to increase recruiting and increase quality of life for the students."
Looking ahead, Holmquist is hopeful of increased participation with a maximum class size of about 20 students next spring.
"Funding is a challenge," Holmquist detailed. "The training center is billing the fire departments about $1,000 a student and the school is covering the cost for the the EMS side. Ultimately we don't want to have to charge the fire departments, so we're hoping increased funding comes in as interest grows."
The FCPSTC is located beside the Franklin County Career and Technology Center off Route 11 in Chambersburg.
The proposed 2020 fire and rescue program is expected to start in January of next year. Interested students, fire and EMS departments, and schools can contact Holmquist for more information at: email@example.com.