Firefighters get national certification in pilot program

Emergency Management Coordinator: 'Our goal was to establish that people of Pike County don’t have to leave to get well paying jobs'

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By Anya Tikka

— The blazes consuming California are only the latest reminder that firefighting is a tremendously demanding job requiring special skills, whatever the location.

Pike County's first batch of firefighters to be nationally certified is the culmination of a years-long pilot program toward creating a truly professional force, according to Tim Knapp, Pike County Emergency Management Coordinator, and Jordan Wisniewski, training and operations manager at the Pike County Department of Public Safety. The department has been holding classes for the last three years toward the national certification, titled National Fire Protection Association 1001.

Anyone with that certification can find a job as a firefighter anywhere in the country, since most states are participating in the program, Knapp said. He stressed that most of Pike County’s firefighters still live here, even if they have jobs in New York City or even as far away as Baltimore.

“They have paid jobs there, and continue to volunteer here,” Knapp said.

Once a firefighter has certification, he said, it can never be taken away, and re-certification is not necessary.

“Our goal was to establish that people of Pike County who we care about don’t have to leave Pike County to get well paying jobs," he said.

Persistence neededIt wasn’t easy to get the program going. The state said it didn’t need more testing sites. Pennsylvania already has about 30.

Knapp and Wisniewski had to convince the reluctant state about the need for certification locally. It took persistence to establish Pike County as a testing center.

However, visiting state reps were so impressed with the equipment and level of instruction here, they said Pike will serve as a model for other places in the state.

Knapp said funding is already there for firefighters to become certified. But having certified members means additional outlays.

“We have the facility to do the testing," said Knapp. "There’s a lot of integrity and credibility that goes into testing. Everything’s got to be signed by an affidavit, or you could jeopardize the fire system across the country."

He said that with the state grant, "we are able to bring up to 20 firefighters every year, and if the department has national level certified members, it adds $250 extra per person per year for every person certified, up to 20. It’s going to add up to $9,500 to $12,000 to $15,000.”

Future firefightersIn the plans is outreach with area schools, to enlist high school seniors in the certification program.

“Not everyone will go to college," Knapp said. "This is a path, part of career-tech that can lead to many jobs in the future. Our goal is to go to East Stroudsburg North, Delaware Valley, and Wallenpaupack and take eight students from each for a class of 24.”

Currently, there are no concrete plans as to when the program will start.

The national-level certification is the first step in a series of certifications. The program has so far has certified 139 candidates in Pike County, who have trained for a total of 1,512 hours over the past three years.

“We based our program on the State ETA (Educational Training Agencies), which is based on Bucks Community College program," said Knapp. "The state pays ETAs. The students who come for the regular training don’t pay a dime. Training is paid via our regular budget here at the county, and the state pays ETA’s the biggest chunk of it."

The candidates first take a five-month recruiting class, and at the end of it test for the 1001 certification.

“You have to pass 100 questions with 70 percent pass rate, and 12 skill stations for hands-on practical training," said Wisniewski.

After the 1001 program, firefighters can take classes at the Academy in Lancaster that can lead to different fields, including pump operator, hazard awareness, emergency medical technician, and introduction into criminal justice.

“Not everyone will go to college. This is a path, part of career-tech that can lead to many jobs in the future."
Tim Knapp

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