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Middletown Volunteer Fire Company earns distinction only 3 percent achieve

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/29/19

The bronze border decals that have been put on Middletown Volunteer Fire Company rigs aren’t just a decoration, but a badge of pride that has been earned by members of the company.

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Middletown Volunteer Fire Company earns distinction only 3 percent achieve

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The bronze border decals that have been put on Middletown Volunteer Fire Company rigs aren’t just a decoration, but a badge of pride that has been earned by members of the company.

The bronze border decals signify that 50 to 74 percent of company members have achieved the Firefighter 1 certification, a distinction possessed by just 3 percent of all  2,211 volunteer fire companies in Pennsylvania, Chief Kenny Whitebread Jr. told Middletown Borough Council on Jan. 15.

Firefighter 1 is a higher level of certification for voluntary firefighters who are already certified or have demonstrated proficiency in hazardous materials training, interior structural fire attack, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and emergency medical care, according to prerequisites posted on the website of the Office of the Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner.

Testing to obtain Firefighter 1 certification is done through the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, with accreditation granted by the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications. The certification is referred to as the “Pro Board” Firefighter 1 certification.

The Firefighter 1 certification is recognized nationwide, whereas some other certification levels are not recognized outside of Pennsylvania, Whitebread said. Firefighter 1 is also among requirements for anyone looking to get a job as a paid firefighter, he added.

“You are showing somebody you know how to do it and you do it proficiently like a professional would do it,” Whitebread said of the Firefighter 1 certification.

A firefighter achieving Firefighter 1 certification will have put in at least 216 hours toward obtaining that designation, Whitebread said. That would be 5 1/2 weeks of training, if firefighting was the person’s full-time 40 hour a week job.

Chris Coble has a full-time job, but says being a volunteer firefighter is like having a second full-time job, if not more.

Achieving Firefighter 1 certification takes dedication and commitment, and an “understanding” family and employer, said Coble, a Middletown firefighter since 1996.

It means giving up every weekend for six to eight months, if weekends are the only time that the classes you need are offered. It can mean giving up several nights a week, for months on end.

The training doesn’t end with Firefighter 1 certification.

“It’s a never-ending process,” said Coble. “There are always different tactics, new tactics, studies that come out showing how you should do this. Six months later, they might change it again.”

Like many others with the Middletown department, firefighting is in Coble’s blood.

His grandfather did it, his uncle, his cousins, his brothers. But there’s more to it.

“I want to help out my community. I don’t want to be somebody that just sits around my house all week long after work and watches TV. I want to be able to help my community so if somebody is in their time of need, we’re there for them,” Coble said. “I also do the training to better myself and our brothers, the other firemen. If I don’t know what I’m doing that can get one of them hurt or killed, and that is something I would never be able to live with.”

As nice as the bronze decals look, the department wants to replace them with gold — the color associated with a 75 to 100 percent level of Firefighter 1 certification.

Middletown Volunteer Fire Company now has nearly 40 active members equipped with “turnout gear” to go out on calls.

“We’ve lately been averaging 15 to 20 out on a call. Our numbers are going up” membership-wise, Whitebread said.

Middletown also has five firefighters in the “live-in” program at the station on Adelia Street, compared to three in the fall.

All this helps contribute to a budget-line item that Whitebread is happy to see increase. “I love the day when I gotta buy more gear racks.”