Student volunteers train to save lives at local fire station

ALLEGRA THATCHER
CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST

Some Franciscan University students aren’t just in training to save souls during their time at Franciscan. They are also participating in a local volunteer opportunity.

The Pottery Addition Fire Department in Steubenville, a completely volunteer based station, takes on the task of training students to become firefighters. The station currently has four active student members, two of whom are trained and equipped for all that the standard work firefighters do, and two who are still in probation. Junior Elizabeth Galker is the liaison between the students and the station.

Fire Chief Don Bell said that because volunteer departments are having trouble recruiting members, “I came up with the idea several years ago of possibly recruiting at the college.”

His initial attempts were unsuccessful, but “out of the blue a student up here called me up and…said ‘I’m interested in helping out’,” said Bell. The caller was a graduate theology student, who “fell in love with [the station]” and went on to become an EMT.

From there, the members from the university have only increased.

“We start them off at the basic level, which is 36 hours,” said Bell.  “After that they’re able to fight a fire, take people out of cars…once a student joins our department, they typically stay around until they graduate.”

Bell said that once or twice a month there is training to refresh the members on the policies and use of tools. “We provide all the training, and all the equipment,” Bell said.

Students can be trained in anything from structure fires, brush fires, car wrecks, calls where someone smells smoke, to cleaning trucks and teaching children on field trips how to put on helmets.

Junior Jacob Konkolics said he enjoys “being part of something that is looked upon as courageous, and learning so much about how it’s done.” He described the opportunity to be the lead man on the hose during a structure fire, as an “exhilarating experience.”

“You never know what you’ll be called to,” said Mariel Borrozo, sophomore. She has experienced, among various calls, setting up an evacuation route at the Third Order Regular Motherhouse in Toronto and aiding in landing helicopters precisely in landing zones. “Going in with an open mind every time and being open to learning all these things (is crucial),” Borrozo said.

When Barrozo, who is interested in becoming an EMT, met Bell, she knew that “This is what I want to do with my life. Hearing his story has inspired me even more.” The passion, companionship, fellowship and energy of the station “keep her on her toes.”

Bell, who is a Registered Nurse and currently works for an insurance company in loan management, has been fighting fires since the age of 14 and has 36 years of experience. For him, the most rewarding part of volunteering as Fire Chief is “seeing [people] at what they perceive as the worst moment in their life and being able to make a difference.” He also enjoys the constant training and evolution of technology involved.

Konkolics also enjoys working with the certified volunteers. “They’re not your typical Franciscans, they have a different culture,” Konkolics said. “Being part of that culture and still being able to be who I am as a Catholic man has been a great blessing, learning experience and a great witness to be part of it.”

Barrozo extended her appreciation beyond the station and into Steubenville as well. “Being on campus is so different from being part of town, it’s an eye opener. Meeting the people of the town, listening to their stories, being involved…is all worth it…You don’t hear stories about the other side of the hill.”

The students truly make a difference in the lives of the victims, said Bell, who called the mutual benefit of the station and the students a “symbiotic relationship.”

Bell said, “I get members that are intelligent, physically fit, willing to learn, and on their side they get to see people at their worst – they can help them not only physically but spiritually…that gives the victim a feeling of hope.”

The students are “more equipped than some of the rough and tumble guys I have,” said Bell. “They can relate to that person a lot better.”

Konkolics, who views this opportunity as the chance to “fulfill a childhood dream,” said he thinks that as Franciscan students, he and his fellow volunteers contribute to the station in unique ways.

“Bringing that enthusiasm and openness to learn into the fire department does so much,” said Konkolics. “It grows into being a good work environment where it’s more team oriented and a more efficient environment where people are trained at a high level.”

Bell said he understands that students have lives outside the station, so the commitment for the department is to make 10 percent of the calls a year. Given that the station only makes 80-90 calls a year, students are required to make only about 10 in the entire year, though Bell said most do more than that.

Without the student volunteers, there are 14 volunteer fire fighters, and only one or two can usually make it on the average call. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the students,” said Bell.

Once students have gone through training they are issued a pager, and also receive a text through One Call, a texting service Bell uses. The students can choose at the moment of the page or text whether he or she can make it to the call.

“I carry the pager all day,” said Konkolics. “I make it a rule for myself that if we get a call an hour or less before a commitment, I won’t go. Other than that, choosing it depends on what I’m doing.”

Barrozo recommends being exposed to “that kind of experience if you’re interested in that field. It’s not necessarily medical, you don’t get to treat patients, but you do learn how to be quick on your feet and think outside the box.”

“It challenges you to learn more about yourself, about a specific skill set, it’s a good environment to learn about what it means to rely on a team, and then it’s fun. It’s a unique type of fun,” said Konkolics.

Chief Bell asks that anyone who has the slightest bit of interest in the department to come down to the station, attend one of the training sessions, and see if this experience is for them. Each student who contributes is one more life in the community touched.

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