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Valley News Dispatch

Firefighter training course returning to Highlands High School

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A program that prepares teens to be firefighters is returning to Highlands High School.

The school board has accepted a proposal from the Highlands Emergency Services Alliance and the Allegheny-Kiski Health Foundation to bring back the entry level fire training as an elective for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

It had been offered for nine years, but stopped when its instructor left the district.

The coalition that plans to bring it back starting in the 2019-20 school year also includes the state and county fire academies. The Highlands Emergency Services Alliance includes eight volunteer fire companies within the school district.

Students who sign up for the course would be bused to the county’s training center in North Park. The Health Foundation will cover the cost. There would be no costs to the district, according to Rick Jones, chief of Pioneer Hose and the alliance’s vice president.

Students would attend classes for 14 days spread throughout the school year.

The coalition’s proposal to the school district notes that most communities in the state are served by volunteer firefighters, and their ranks have been dwindling – from about 350,000 in the 1970s to 50,000 today.

“Volunteer firefighters are called on to do so much more than fight fires,” the proposal states. “They provide automobile accident response, water rescue and water safety services, disaster response and rescue, traffic control, removal services for downed trees and other roadway impediments, residential flooding remediation, missing person searches, fire safety training, and yes, they also respond to cats stranded in trees.”

About 150 Highlands High School students completed the course over the nine years it had been offered, according to the coalition’s proposal to the school district.

“And while it is true that not all of the students became firefighters, and not all that did become firefighters stayed in the Highlands community, it is the bigger picture that counts. Both the community and the nation are safer as a result,” the proposal says.

Skills and concepts students gained from the training useful beyond firefighting include problem solving, teamwork, critical decision making, situational awareness, safety and survival, and leadership, the proposal states.

Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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