CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The Franklin County Public Safety Training Center held its first multiple-discipline open house on Saturday.
The event gave the public a chance to meet local emergency-services personnel, including fire, EMS and law enforcement.
“The main objective is to give the public the opportunity to come out and interact with public-safety entities across the board and to let kids become more familiar with police officers, fire trucks and ambulances,” said Ben Holmquist, board member for the training center and deputy fire chief at New Franklin Volunteer Fire Co.
With volunteer shortages in fire and emergency management services at critical levels, Holmquist saw the open house as a recruitment opportunity.
“Our numbers decline every year,” he said.
Just last month, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors urged Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special legislative session to address the dwindling number of volunteer emergency responders.
One reason for the decline is an increase in training coupled with the rising costs to operate a fire or EMS department, Holmquist said.
“We’re asking them to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning to go to emergencies, but we’re also asking them to work bingos and various fundraisers,” he said. “We are just continually stressing the same small group of people over and over again.”
Today’s event is about increasing positive interactions between the local community and all emergency services, said Matthew Lynch, training center board member and Chambersburg Police Department detective.
“We are trying to expand the center’s reach so that we can help our first responders by offering more training and more diverse training,” he said.
Over the past five years, the center has “really ramped up” its law enforcement training, Lynch said.
Proudly sporting a red, plastic fireman’s hat, Dylan Grove of Chambersburg stood at the front of a line waiting for a K9 demonstration to begin Saturday.
“You in the red fireman’s hat. What do you think dogs do for us?” asked Chambersburg Police Lt. Rick Morrissette.
After pausing for a moment, Dylan said, “Help catch the bad guys.”
That’s one of the many things K9s do, Morrissette said.
Chambersburg K9s are trained to locate illegal drugs and perform patrol duties, including tracking and searches.
During Chambersburg Police Department’s K9 demonstration, patrolman Patrick Hinds and K9 Mattis located narcotics under some orange cones set up in the demonstration area.
Then, Hinds put on a protection suit and pretended to be an assailant — as Patrolman John Sgrignoli gave a command to K9 Basco. Basco charged and stopped Hinds in his tracks.
“This is a chance to show the public all of our capabilities, and it’s a way to give back to the public for their support of the K9 program,” Sgrignoli said.
“Today, I learned that the people here help you when you get hurt or need them,” Dylan said.
It’s a great way to start a dialogue, said Dylan’s mother, Tiffany Grove.
Grace Dull of Chambersburg brought her young sons – Deacon, 2, and Wyatt, 6 months, to the open house.
“Deacon is obsessed with fire trucks, and it’s a beautiful day, so we thought we’d come out and see the fire trucks and the police dogs,” Dull said.
But, more importantly, she wanted her sons to learn that first responders are the good guys.
“I want them to know who is there to keep you safe and not to be afraid,” she said.
Franklin County Jail’s Corrections Emergency Response Team showed off its tactical skills with a flash bang, smoke grenade and pepper balls.
The team is basically a SWAT team within the jail, said Franklin County Jail Warden Bill Bechtold.
“Our officers don’t get a lot of exposure for the great work that they do on a daily basis. So, I thought this was a good opportunity for us to get out and show how professional our staff are and to support the community and local law enforcement and fire,” Bechtold said.