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Schuylkill asks: Who will answer the fire call?

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    Dave Sattizahn, left, president of the Schuylkill County Volunteer Firefighters’ Association, and Frank Zangari, Girardville fire chief and chairman of the Schuylkill County Fire Chief’s Association, spoke during the Schuylkill County Commissioners’ meeting Wednesday. LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS

Published March 01. 2019 12:56PM

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And hopefully, a firefighter to put it out.

In 1974, the force of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania numbered about 300,000. Today, there are fewer than 38,000.

In Schuylkill County, the executive board of the Schuylkill County Fire Chiefs’ Association has a plan. “If you build it, they will come,” could be very true, as the county is home to a premier training facility, the Schuylkill County Emergency Services Academy in Frackville. A state-of-the-art burn Building opened there in April 2018; adding to other training structures and class room facilities at the location.

Now, where to find those youth willing to commit to the training? Representatives of the executive board attended the Schuylkill County Commissioners’ meeting Wednesday, and after the meeting, talked about the dire need to bolster the ranks of firefighters.

Frank Zangari of Girardville, who chairs the executive board, and Dave Sattizahn of Pine Grove, president of the county Volunteer Firefighters Association, said they are meeting March 5 with officials from Chester County. In Chester County, training programs for EMTs and firefighters have been added into a Vo-Tech program.

Zangari and Sattizahn, and the commissioners, hope that can happen in Schuylkill County.

“The commissioners were willing to commit money to the training center, and everyone in the county can train there for free,” Zangari said. “Without that we wouldn’t have the volunteers we have now.”

“We’re 105 (volunteer fire companies) strong,” he added. “We hope to continue to serve Schuylkill County, but our numbers are dwindling.”

Zangari said that the average age of a firefighter in Pennsylvania is 47. The average age in Schuylkill County is 43.

“We have a lot of seasoned firefighters, but we need youth,” he said.

Plans to add emergency training for EMTs and firefighters to a vocational-technical school are very preliminary. But with a premier training facility within its boundaries, it could be an answer for Schuylkill County.

“Our training abilities are at a premium — it’s the best it’s ever been,” said Commissioner Gary Hess. “But there’s a lack of volunteers — in 10 years, who will answer that call?”

Commissioners’ Chairman George Halcovage said that “volunteer firefighters play a big part in the safety of our communities.”

“In emergency situations, people of this county really come together,” Halcovage said. “The executive board (of the county fire chiefs’ association) coordinates the firefighters throughout the county — we have their backs, and they have ours. We have a great respect for them.”

During the commissioners’ meeting, Zangari and Sattizahn were reappointed to the executive board, along with Jason Witmier of Pottsville, John Matz of Deer Lake, Gary Witmier of Pottsville and Scott Krater of Port Carbon. The commissioners also appointed advisory board members: Jack Messner of Pottsville; John Kellman of Pottsville; Art Connely of Tamaqua, and Glenn Sattizahn of Schuylkill Haven.

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