Jefferson Hills Council members take firefighter training at the Allegheny County Fire Academy
Two members of the Jefferson Hills council have almost completed their firefighter training at the Allegheny County Fire Academy.
Board chair Karen Bucy, a retired eighth-grade teacher, and Melissa Steffey, a real estate agent, spent more than a dozen Saturdays at the Allison Park training center learning what many volunteers, men and women suffer when responding to emergencies.
The training started in February. They have taken three of the four modules as part of the Firefighter Essentials and plan to take the final course over the next few months.
“It’s a commitment, but it’s definitely worth it,” Bucy said. “It is beneficial not only for the community, but for the individual himself.”
Elected officials said they wanted to better understand what firefighters are going through.
Council members fought for the possible reestablishment of the Gill Hall Volunteer Fire Department and the likely creation of a substation in the area for the Jefferson Hills firefighters.
A majority of council wants Gill Hall to merge with JHFR to create a borough-wide service.
“The only way for me to perceive the vote on things and to have more education on things was to join the academy,” Steffey said. “I really needed to find out what I was voting on. It definitely strengthened my position on why our departments need to merge completely into a full merger, not just an operational merger.
Parts of the training
The first module is an introduction to the fire service. Students learn about personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, boots, pants and basic equipment. They learn to put on the uniform in a minute or less. They also study various tools, stage lighting, hazardous materials, basic ground support and how to set up a work area.
Module two includes working with fire hoses, how to load them onto devices, how to obtain water from a hydrant and other sources, radio communication as well as how to tie knots and hoist tools, among other skills.
Module three includes working with air packs, how to equip and start breathing with the device in a minute or less, outdoor firefighting training, use of ladders, how to transport people and being an outside firefighter, as well as other duties.
Module four is about indoor firefighting. Students must successfully demonstrate the above skills and pass the written exams.
One of their main instructors is Ronald Baselj, a longtime firefighter from Fairview Station in South Fayette who recently joined a service in Bridgeville. He has over 25 years of experience and has been an academy instructor since 2006.
“There wasn’t one aspect of this training that either of them said he couldn’t do (or) wouldn’t do,” Baselj said. “It was the opposite. It’s been a total effort on their part to do it all, and we don’t cut any shortcuts with them. We are going to treat them like we do with all the other beginner level students, and so far they are doing very well.
He said there is no state standard for firefighters; local fire chiefs set standards for their services.
Baselj said one of the training exercises involves getting a person down a ladder, a physically and mentally daunting task for most people.
“I have a lot of black and blue markings to prove it,” said Bucy, 64. “Everyone is rooting for grandma. They’ve never seen anything like it. My goal is to complete the basics before I’m 65.e birthday in October.
Steffey said they received a lot of support from other cadets and coaches. She maintains that all Jefferson Hills firefighters go through modules and even other certifications.
“Personally, I didn’t know what it was all about (the training),” she said. “I thought to myself that if I am asking someone to do this, I need to know how mentally demanding it is, how physically demanding it is and the safety precautions to be safe. I wanted to lead by example.
Baselj said many of those who go through the fire academy are affiliated with a fire service and are covered by that company’s workers’ compensation insurance.
However, council members said they took a different route to avoid a conflict of interest and are not affiliated with any fire departments when it comes to academy training.
Steffey said she applied for Borough insurance coverage similar to that of a public works employee. Bucy said she added a policy under her own insurance.
JHFR chief Brian Chalfant has confirmed that neither Bucy nor Steffey are members of his department, and he has not signed their application to the academy.
Chalfant, who also serves as an instructor at the academy, praised the board members for their educational initiative.
“I applaud them,” he said. “I think all city leaders should attend (the academy). How does a council member or township supervisor vote on anything and make decisions if they don’t know what they are voting on? ”
Bucy said she spent about $ 1,200 of her own money on equipment and training, and that their attendance at the academy was free for the borough.