Jefferson Hills Council members go through firefighter training at Allegheny

Two Jefferson Hills council members have nearly completed firefighter training through the Allegheny County Fire Academy.

Council president Karen Bucy, a retired eighth-grade teacher, and Melissa Steffey, a real estate agent, have spent more than a dozen Saturdays at the training facility in Allison Park learning what many men and women volunteers go through when responding to emergencies.

Training started in February. They completed three out of four modules as part of firefighter essentials and plan on taking the final course within the next few months.

“It is a commitment, but it is certainly worthwhile,” Bucy said.”It’s beneficial not only for the community, but for the individual, themselves.”

The elected leaders said they wanted to have a better understanding of what firefighters go through.

Council members have been in a battle over the possible reinstatement of Gill Hall Volunteer Fire Department and the likely establishment of a substation in that neighborhood for Jefferson Hills Fire Rescue.

A majority of council wants Gill Hall to merge with JHFR to create one boroughwide department.

“The only way I could perceive voting on things and having more education on things was to join the academy,” Steffey said. “I really needed to educate myself on what I was voting on. It’s definitely solidified my stance on why our departments need to completely merge in a full merger, not just an operational merger.”

Parts of training

Module one is an introduction to the fire service. Students learn about personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, boots, pants and basic gear. They learn how to put on the uniform in a minute or less. They also study various tools, scene lighting, hazardous materials, basic ground support and how to set up a work zone.

Module two includes working with fire hoses, how to load them on to apparatuses, how to get water from a hydrant and other sources, radio communication as well as how to tie knots and hoist tools among other skills.

Module three includes working with air packs, how to equip and start breathing with the apparatus in a minute or less, exterior firefighting training, using ladders, how to carry people and be an exterior firefighter, along with other tasks.

Module four involves interior firefighting. Students must successfully demonstrate the aforementioned skills and pass written exams.

Instructor’s perspective

One of their main instructors is Ronald Baselj, a longtime firefighter for South Fayette’s Fairview station who recently joined a Bridgeville department. He has more than 25 years experience and has been an academy instructor since 2006.

“There has not been an aspect of this training that either of them said they can’t do (or) they won’t do,” Baselj said. “It’s been the opposite. It’s been total effort on their part to do everything, and we’re not cutting any shortcuts with them. We’re going to treat them like we do all the other entry level students, and so far they’re performing great.”

He said there is no state standard for firefighters; local fire chiefs set standards for their departments.

Baselj said one of the training exercises involves carrying a person down a ladder, a physically and mentally daunting task for most people.

“I have a lot of black-and-blue marks to prove that,” said Bucy, 64. “Everybody roots for grandma. They’ve never seen anything like it. My goal is to get through essentials before my 65th birthday in October.”

Steffey said they received a lot of support from the other cadets and trainers. She supports having all Jefferson Hills firefighters go through the modules and even further certifications.

“I personally didn’t know what was involved in all that (training),” she said. “I thought, if I’m asking somebody to do this I need to know how mentally demanding it is, how physically demanding it is and the safety precautions to be safe. I wanted to lead by example.”

Signing up

Baselj said many who go through the fire academy are affiliated with a fire department and are covered under that company’s worker’s compensation insurance.

However, the council members said they went a different route to avoid a conflict of interest and are not affiliated with any fire department when it comes to academy training.

Steffey said she requested to be covered under the borough’s insurance similar to a public works employee. Bucy said she added a policy under her own insurance.

JHFR Chief Brian Chalfant confirmed neither Bucy nor Steffey are members of his department, and he did not sign off on their academy application.

Chalfant, who also serves as an academy instructor, commended the council members for their educational initiative.

“I applaud them,” he said. “I think all municipal leaders should attend (the academy). How does a council member or township supervisor vote on anything and make decisions if they don’t know what they’re voting on?”

Bucy said she spent about $1,200 of her own money on gear and training, and their academy participation came at no cost to the borough.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter .

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Jefferson Hills Council members go through firefighter training at Allegheny