By Rick Hiduk
In August, energy companies collectively contributed about $30,000 toward an addition to a firefighter training center in southern Schuylkill County during the 64th annual Schuylkill County Volunteer Firefighters Association Convention. The widely-used facility is 30 years old and sits on 26 acres near Frackville, and the generous donation provides an opportunity to address new circumstances and safety concerns brought to the region by the natural gas industry.
Frank Zangari, president of the Schuylkill County Fire Chief’s Association for 28 years, serves as chairman of the fire training center. The enhancement of pipeline infrastructure in the county creates concerns among citizens who are not familiar with the industry, he noted, and firefighters, residents, and the gas companies will be better off when the new training wing opens.
“It’s still new to our community,” Zangari remarked, even though the fire training center already has a small area where firefighters learn to control and extinguish propane fires. Those elements – a 100-pound tank, a rail car, and a tractor trailer tank car – will be combined with the new apparatus specifically geared to pipeline ruptures. “We’re going to put together a whole program just for that industry. I think the community will be more comfortable when they realize that we are training in that field and understand the reality. “Being able to pre-plan and train is a plus for our first responders.” Zangari expects that gas industry workers will also take part in training exercises.
The convention began on Aug. 19 with a memorial service and continued with training exercises, history night, bingo and family fun nights. The week-long event concluded on Aug. 25 with a parade through Pine Grove. Members of Pine Grove Hose, Hook and Ladder Co. #1 hosted the event, which included a Delegates Meeting and Dinner on Wednesday night that drew elected officials from across Schuylkill County as well as energy company representatives.
“At the delegates dinner, several energy companies thanked the attendees and announced their pooled commitment to the Schuylkill County Firefighters Association training facility,” noted state Rep. Mike Tobash. “I want to personally thank those companies for recognizing the dedication and importance of these volunteers. They tirelessly serve there communities and then turn around to raise money to train themselves.”
Contributors included Cabot Oil & Gas, Chief Oil & Gas, EQT Corporation, Seneca Resources Company, Southwestern Energy and Williams. Also in attendance were state representatives Jerry Knowles and Neil P. Goodman.
“Cabot is committed to supporting first responders in communities where we develop natural gas and where pipeline infrastructure, like the Atlantic Sunrise, is built,” stated George Stark, Cabot Oil & Gas director of external affairs. “We embrace the opportunity to join our industry counterparts in supporting the firefighter training center in Schuylkill as a tremendous resource for the first responders throughout the region.”
“The gas companies partnered with us and realized that we are all volunteers,” Zangari said of the outreach and donation. “They understand our business.”
“Remembrance ceremonies like the recent events to honor those who lost their lives on 9-11 remind us all about the difficult tasks and heroism displayed by America’s first responders,” Seneca Resources director of stakeholder relations noted. “Up-to-date equipment is another critical component that not only aids the responder in saving our lives, but can also be essential to saving their own.”
“We’ve been working with the energy companies for the last year and a half through our elected officials,” Pine Grove fire chief David Sattizahn related. “Our whole goal is to put a gas prop on our facility to train our firefighters and assimilate our personnel to specific circumstances.” Elements will include pipeline valving, gated valves, and pull-offs. “Anything basically involved with the gas lines that other jurisdictions might come into contact with, including their own industry people,” Sattizahn added.
“Building upon our past support for Schuylkill’s training center, we jumped at the chance to collaborate with other natural gas industry partners to provide additional financial support for the training center,” Williams partners manager for public outreach offered. “For Williams, building long lasting relationships with first responders is an important component of our efforts to support communities where we live and work.” Williams had previously assisted the training center through the Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant Program in the spring.
Zangari hopes to see ground broken for the new edition in October and the project completed in the spring of 2019 for use next summer. Part of the finalization of the plans is ensuring that runoff from the new training area stays on sight and complies with all EPA and DEP guidelines.
The expansion comes on the heals of a $1.7-million renovation of the entire training center. It is used by fire companies across Schuylkill County, as well as police, EMS, and employees of one federal and two state prison systems. Use by industries and departments outside Schuylkill County pay to use the facility, which generates some income for maintenance and continued improvements.