Firefighters Migrate to Pa. For Cumberland Conference

Aug. 01-- CHAMBERSBURG -- Some 50 men and women from six states packed into the Fayetteville Fire Company social hall Wednesday afternoon, for a lunch of sloppy joes and chips. They're on a lunch break from the convention that has brought them all together, the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association Convention, which returned to Chambersburg for the first time in 12 years.

The convention, hosted by the Franklin Fire Company, spans four days and includes lectures, meetings, a memorial service and a parade where all the attendees walk through Chambersburg with antique fire engines.

This year, there is a continued focus on some specific issues firefighters have been facing nationally that association members have been working on fighting for years. The convention has a history as one of the last multi-state associations in the country, and is one of the oldest being formed in 1903.

"Representatives from at least seven states will be coming together to talk about some issues that are impacting the fire service around the nation," said Steve Austin, a past president of the CVVFA.

The issues the group is focusing on this year come from two very different realms of fire fighting. The first comes from the fire fighting service itself: safety on roadways.

The group has been working on setting new standards for responding vehicles on roads, as well spreading awareness of how to inform the public on the best way to respond when seeing various vehicles at an incident.

Whether it's working on the safest places to park emergency vehicles while responding to a scene, or the reflective markers that can be used on vehicles, there are many different things that can be done to keep service people safe while on a busy roadway.

Steve Heefer, of the Newport Fire Department, said that these conventions are meant for attendees, often past and current presidents, chiefs, leaders of fire companies and educators, to learn best practices and pass them back to the state and local fire companies and associations.

They're finding more complications with newly distracted drivers and people not understanding what they are supposed to do when they see flashing lights. They've created a Public Service Announcement that has run nationally, about highway safety, and continue to solidify a standard they've found works for highway safety.

"You're seeing more and more of police officers that are positioning their cars, in a traffic stop, when they make that stop, so in the even a distracted driver comes down and crashes into that car, a police cruiser is now a blocker for the officer and the person that pulled over," said Heefer.

It's not just firefighters and police that they suggest doing this though -- it's anyone who has to respond to a scene on a highway.

"It's basically saying we're willing to take a chance to have a $100,000-$500,000 piece of equipment versus the life of one of our people, or the life one of the people we're trying to help," Heefer said.

The other major issue the group faces is reputation management. Over the past few years, the group has been acutely aware of reports of firefighters who have been in the press for negative reasons. Austin said that there is only a minority of people in the fire service to whom the reports apply, but each one still affects the relationship between fire service members and the public.

Candice McDonald, a member of the CVVFA and a Ohio Fire Corps State Advocate, explained that in 2010 the association began to really take notice and wrote a report on the issues they saw. McDonald said specifically, they recognized firefighters were engaging in thefts in the fire house, substance abuse, cheating and arson.

"Cumberland Valley's goal was trying to be proactive and to get that stop because the fire service is built on integrity, and that's what they want, they want to keep that image of integrity," McDonald said.

CVVFA President Jim Watson said that the association is not willing to push these incidents under the rug, and wants to confront the issue head on. The association currently has a website, firefighterbehavior.com, where they post stories good or bad about members of the fire fighting community. They want people to learn from it.

McDonald teaches a reputation management class, where firefighters learn about how to help control the reputation that is spread throughout the community. Whether it's tools needed to assist in a bad situation, or and understanding of how social media works and how to control a social media presence, the program has been used in fire houses across the country.

McDonald said that a key is making sure people understand the expectations of firefighters is clear, and to make sure people are paying attention to red flags. The association also assisted in putting together a code of ethics that is now in fire fighting manuals across the country, according to Austin.

"You should try to stop a problem before there is a crisis," McDonald said, "Because you might have a really good fire fighter that just doesn't have any guidance."

All in all, the convention is about making progress for firefighters everywhere, by getting people into the mentality to make smaller changes that will benefit everyone in the long run.

"We're here today, all to save lives," Heefer said.

Staff writer Becky Metrick can be reached at (717) 262-4762.

Copyright 2014 - Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pa.

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