Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fired Up to Learn College Students Get Free Housing, Experience in Return for Work as Firefighters in Monroeville

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fired Up to Learn College Students Get Free Housing, Experience in Return for Work as Firefighters in Monroeville

Article excerpt

Firefighting students at Community College's Boyce campus are getting free housing and on-the-job training at a local volunteer fire department.

"This is no bed and breakfast," said John Snyder, chief of Monroeville Volunteer Fire Co. No. 5. "They use us and we use them."

They get rent-free use of the firehouse, from kitchen to TV lounge and computers to printers. But they don't get much privacy; up to a dozen students sleep in a large bunk room.

If they agree to pay Monroeville taxes, register to vote and change their drivers license, they may use the firehouse as a permanent address and qualify for CCAC's lower, in-county tuition.

The live-ins are called "proby blackhats," for their probationary status and lowly rank indicated by the color of their helmets. They work free as firefighters and first responders and, back at the firehouse, they cook, clean up and do chores.

Most of the live-ins are enrolled in the fire science program at Community College of Allegheny County. The program attracts men and women who want to move from volunteer firefighting to the professional ranks. The associate degree gives them a credential. The firehouse program, which has been offered for 20 years, enhances their resume.

Paramedics studying at UPMC's Center for Emergency Medicine and police academy cadets also have lived at the firehouse.

Because of the arsonist-as-volunteer-firefighter stigma, candidates are thoroughly screened. Criminal history, driving record and firefighting experience are probed. References are checked, employers are called and candidates are interviewed.

"You have to show us you want to be here," Snyder said.

"In firefighting, every day is different. It's a challenge," said Alex Harrington, 18, of Loretto, Cambria County, explaining why he chose the profession.

No. 5 station is about a half mile from the Boyce campus, so the live-ins can bike or walk to classes. It also is well situated for emergency calls, at the nexus of the Parkway East, Pennsylvania Turnpike, Route 22, Route 48 and Route 286.

Last year, the fire company responded to 1,466 fire and medical emergencies, or about four a day.

The students give the fire company the ability to respond quickly. …

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