DAVIDSVILLE - With declining ranks hurting volunteer fire departments nationwide, local firefighters are reaching out to high school students.
Volunteers from Conemaugh, Ideal, Hollsopple and Jerome fire departments on Thursday pitched the benefits of joining the fire service to more than 500 Conemaugh Township Area students at the high school auditorium.
They're looking to pass the torch to the next generation.
"There are guys involved in the fire department for 25-30 years and they don't have too much time left," firefighter Chad Knauer said. "I want the fire department to be here for the next 150 years."
The volunteers are recruiting junior firefighters ages 14 to 18.
From there, they can blossom into professional firefighters, EMS personnel, paramedics, nurses and water rescue members, firefighters said.
"We nurture them for the next four years through training and practicing the skills they need to become firefighters," said Robert Simonsick, chaplain for the Conemaugh company.
The 30-minute assembly included a video and display of firefighting gear.
The need for firefighters and EMS personnel is pushing recruitment to center stage, said Scott Grahn, manager of the Somerset County Swift Water Rescue Team.
"That's why we're here today," Grahn said.
Grahn helped student Shawn Dufrene slip into a life vest.
The 17-year-old said she would be interested in firefighter training.
"I think it would be useful to me," she said. "I'm more of a pacifist. I would rather help save lives."
Teenagers and adults wanting to know about the fire service can attend an open house. The doors will be open at the Conemaugh Fire Department from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Young people are being encouraged to attend.
"A lot of kids are afraid (of joining)," Simonsick said. "They just need to come in and try it out and see if it works for them. That's the big thing."
Copyright 2009 The Tribune-Democrat
December 4, 2009