MARIETTA - Representatives from 12 area fire companies, the Ohio State Fire Academy and Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office were among those on hand Tuesday during the first community meet and greet event for area firefighters.
The purpose of the meet and greet was two-fold, according to Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham who helped coordinate the event with Warren Township Fire Chief Mark Wile and John Burdette, director of Washington State Community College's new Center for Public Safety Training.
"The numbers are down for volunteer firefighters locally, so this is kind of a recruitment event for area departments, but it's also a way for the community college to let potential students know about the firefighter training that starts this year," Durham said.
Devola Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Gwynette Hammond, left, watches as fellow firefighter Harold Newlen uses Jaws of Life extrication equipment to cut through the door of a vehicle during Tuesday’s firefighter meet and greet event at Washington State Community College. (Photo by Sam Shawver)
He's seen the need for trained firefighters from the viewpoint of a professional as well as a volunteer with the Warren Township Volunteer Fire Department.
"I started as a volunteer firefighter and then was fortunate enough to be hired by the Marietta Fire Department where I've worked for 15 years," Durham said. "We'll talk to anyone interested in a career, but there's a definite and immediate need for more firefighters in the volunteer community."
Gerald Robinson, deputy superintendent of the Ohio Fire Academy, a division of the State Fire Marshal's Office in Reynoldsburg, agreed.
"State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers and his staff have been going to various areas, talking to local firefighters and departments about their needs," Robinson said. "Many expressed a lack of volunteers, so we're now trying to help boost those numbers for local volunteer fire departments."
That's where Washington State Community College comes in.
"We do a lot of firefighter training-classes that run from four hours to seven weeks in length at the Ohio Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg," Robinson said. "But offering that training here at Washington State would be a great help to the local community. So this is part of an effort to build a program that will allow the college to offer certified fire training."
Claudia Owens, director of communications for WSCC, said the college will offer initial firefighter training beginning this fall.
Owens said WSCC is planning to expand its public safety program that includes peace officer and emergency medical technician training. In September the college will open its Public Safety Academy that will include 36 hours of fire training, required for those who want to join a volunteer fire department.
Burdette said the idea for adding firefighter training originated with Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.
"He told (WSCC President) Brad Ebersole that the community needed a fire school," Burdette said. "So we went to the State Fire Marshal's Office and they were extremely supportive of the idea. They were behind us 100 percent, and that really got things rolling."
Working with the State Fire Marshal and Ohio Fire Academy, WSCC was able to offer the 36-hour firefighter course this fall, with an eventual objective of offering firefighter 2-level courses that are required for professional career firefighters.
Career firefighters must have a minimum of 240 hours of training to qualify for a paid firefighter position.