Volunteer firefighter: Trained and ready to serve

Sean Philip Cotter

It was Josh Markle’s first time "on nozzle” battling a real working fire inside a home.

The Shiloh Fire Co. volunteer firefighter had been kind of nervous on the ride up to the Nov. 18 blaze on Bentz Mill Road, but once he got there, saw big, fat tongues of flame licking out the windows, that feeling went away. He put his gear on, got inside, and knew what to do.

“At that point you just start to remember stuff,” he said. “It’s just kind of second nature at that point.”

Like most York County firefighters, Markle trained at the York County Fire School.

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The training consists of four modules: basic firefighter training, fireground support, exterior firefighting and finally interior firefighting, said Richard Halpin, a former York City deputy chief who runs the fire school. Those are supplemented by hazardous materials and National Incident Management System training. All together, about 168 hours of training are required before a prospective firefighter takes part in a final “live burn,” when the firefighting school finds a building they can set ablaze so the students can prove themselves battling the flames.

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A firefighter competes in the Can-Am Police-Fire Games at the York County Fire School in 2014.

Unlike some counties around the state, York has its own training center: the York County Firefighting School. One series of classes was wrapping up in November; it was on track to graduate 28 firefighters, with all but one heading to York County fire stations. The school offers three series of classes per year, and that number’s a pretty standard amount to graduate,  Halpin said.

Fire chiefs say many prospective firefighters are put off by the long training, but Markle, newly single and living alone, didn’t mind.

He said he’s been fascinated with firefighting since he was a little kid but never knew anyone involved in it. He didn't pursue it until he was inspired by a co-worker who was a volunteer.

Markle finished up the training a couple of years ago and signed up to fight fires at Mayvtown Volunteer Fire Co. in Lancaster County, where he works, and then after a while also at Shiloh, in West Manchester Township, where he lives. He said his employer is unusually good about letting Markle and his co-worker leave to fight fires; some fire chiefs say a reluctance by businesses to do that is another impediment in their recruiting of volunteer firefighters.

Markle ended up being one of the first units at the Bentz Mill Road fire, so the chief in charge of the scene told them to get ready — they were going inside.

“He told (Markle and the other firefighter on the truck with him) to go do an interior attack from the back,” Markle said. “We kinda looked at each other and were like, ‘Oh, oh, we’re gonna do interior.’”

That was the first time he'd been inside a burning home in the two-plus years he's been a volunteer firefighter.

Volunteer Fire Fighter Josh Markle, of Dover Township, is shown at Shiloh Fire Co. in West Manchester Township, York, Pa. on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Markle has been a volunteer fireman for three years, two of which have been at Shiloh.

In those years, he’s been surprised by how much time sometimes passes between calls. He’s gone a couple weeks with only one call, he said, but he’s also had stretches of a half-dozen calls in a few days.

The other thing is the amount of non-fire calls the firefighters have to respond to. Car crashes, cardiac arrests, “lift assists” — helping people who’ve fallen, or helping medical personnel pick up patients — and the like compose the majority of the calls.

Some of the most striking ones are the overdose calls. He said there’s one person for whom emergency personnel have been dispatched at least seven times for reports of an overdose.

He said it’s a weird middle ground — the state can’t commit people for substance abuse rehabilitation, and it’s not like like emergency responders are going to stop showing up to the house. So when the addicts aren’t interested in seeking help themselves, sometimes it becomes an endless loop of reviving people who are all but destined to do the same thing again.

“It seems like there’s something someone should be able to do,” he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter