Good Life

Rick Meyers

CDT photo

Rick Meyers is one of the many faces of the Pleasant Gap Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.

He’s been an active member for 34 years.

In 1985, he got involved in the office side of the company working his way from trustee to first and second vice president, and has been president of the company since about 2004, he said.

The owner of Acura-Cut by trade — a machine shop in Pleasant Gap — Meyers said he has no problem, skipping out on his job once in a while to respond to an emergency in the area he’s called home his whole life.

This year, the company is in a unique situation, celebrating its centennial.

Why get involved in this kind of volunteer work?

It’s my way of giving back to the community. I speak very highly in supporting the community one way or another. I’ve had other organizations that want me to join and help out, from the Lions Club to the Rotary, and I feel you can only give so much to one organization. I don’t want to give a little to each. I want to give all I can to one. Back in the ’80s when I joined, it was my relatives and cousins who all joined as well. It was something we did. If your dads or grandparents belonged, you just followed in their footsteps.

How many members does the company have?

On the roster, I think there are 200 members. Active members are around 40 or 50. The ambulance is paid and there is still volunteers mixed in with the paid staff. There is an ambulance captain who is a volunteer that is part of the fire company, and (an) ambulance committee that oversees all the guidelines for the ambulance.

How many calls does the company get annually?

The ambulance gets around 1,000 to 1,200. Fire calls are around 180 to 200. It fluctuates. Some businesses have alarm systems. When a business is new to the area, and as they work through their systems the call volume goes up and down. For example, with HealthSouth, we used to have a lot of calls for things like burnt toast in the kitchen, and then they started putting a delay into the dispatch system. So that attributes to some of the calls. But fire safety and fire prevention has also helped.

What ways do you educate the community on fire prevention?

We get out to the schools for Fire Prevention Week. Educating the community on fire awareness is important to us. More and more our role is to educate the community. And it does get a good response, but you always like to see more out there. …We also have open houses and stuff like that to get out there and let the community know about us and what we do. We have generations in the company who belong. It’s a cycle. But the numbers aren’t as high as when I joined.

How do you get volunteerism up?

We have people moving into our community that’s growing and we look at that as a good thing, and getting the word-of-mouth out there. With the new building we have, the live-in program has two dorm style rooms. You can come down and live with us for free if you volunteer 32 hours a week. We have one student and one flight medic who is a medic on the helicopter. His family is in Massachusetts, but he moved down here to be a medic and is staying at our station and running our ambulance, and is giving back to the community that way. This program started right after the building was built in 2007 and it took off. What hurts is the required time for the training. We recertify yearly and are constantly training.

Take me through the training process.

For someone new to joining the department, we have to take firefighter, CPR, Hazmat, driving classes, pump operations, so it’s hundreds of hours they have to sacrifice. When you join the company, you’re on probation for a year. You have to attend meetings, help with fundraising and train, and it will take a year to get all that done. Sometimes it just depends when the classes are being offered. And even after training, you have to do a ride-along with us to learn where the equipment is. It doesn’t happen overnight from the training transition to when you can actually run.

How does the company work in partnership with the community?

We’re there for the community and they’re there for us. I get a lot of positive response and I get a lot of response that somehow, we just do things right. There is a lot of negativity coming from organizations that have financial problems of people taking money from the fire departments, but we have internal policies that prevent that. I’m pretty sure the community sees what we do. We manage the fire company very well and manage our expenses very well, and have support from both Spring and Benner (townships), which is key, and we let them know what we need and they support us. When we built the new building they were very supportive. Our goal was to get the building paid for in six years and they were there to see that happened. With the local community, we sent out mailers for a building fund drive and we got a lot of response from that and had multiyear pledges. Someone said they would give $1,000 — $200 a year for five years. That tells us they’re supporting you because they believe in what you do. And we’re providing the service to them. Hopefully they don’t need us, but we’re there if they do.

How did the company make it 100 years?

Basically back before 1914, some local people decided there was a need in the community for a fire company. I think there were six men who went together to form a fire company and they put some resources together. There was a local Martin Marietta lime plant here that supported them and used the siren to activate calls, and get people to come out long before any paging systems. It’s just evolved through the years. We’re one of the few fire companies that are unique. Our ambulance is also part of our fire company. I think there might be two others in the county that do that. It’s run like a business. We run our business through our ambulance and it supports the fire company along with the fund drives we have — a carnival, mailing campaign and a gun drawing in the fall. But our biggest fundraiser is the carnival coming up.

How much is usually raised?

The carnival can raise $15,000 to $20,000. The budget is somewhere around $300,000. We have payroll and some paid ambulance staff, and about five full-timers and 10 to 12 part-timers, and our payroll is a big expense along with equipment and maintenance.

Where else does the money go?

We just purchased a firetruck last year. It was an engine rescue that cost about $700,000. We started in the ’90s trying to expand our existing building and the ambulance said they needed more help with the ambulance, so we thought with the students around Penn State, maybe we can give them a place to live and they can give us some service time to help supplement the ambulance. The building we had didn’t have the facility or layout for any kind of live-in program so we started to build a new building on 18 acres of ground where the carnival is held. In 2006, that came and we ended up building that space — a $1.8 million building. ... Because of that, we sacrificed buying some equipment that could have been replaced. We started a committee to help pay for the engine rescue that we took possession of last year. This year, we’re working on another ambulance to add to our three others. The newest ambulance is from 2008 and looking at a $200,000 investment in another one right now.

How did you celebrate this milestone year?

We kicked off with a banquet in May at Mountain View Country Club and this was the largest attendance. We used to have it at the Mingoville Country Club where we would seat about 130 people, but we had attendance close to 200 this year. We had the fire commissioner of the state and the (county) commissioners who gave us a proclamation, and local politicians were there. It was well-attended and well-liked, and just a great event to kick things off and show the support we get. ... On June 8 we had a centennial event along with a chicken barbecue, and maybe had 200 people and sold 500 chickens. Before that we also had an Easter egg hunt. That got a big turnout with the community. The annual carnival is coming up the last full weekend of the month (July 23-26). We’ll have our normal entertainment with Hybrid Ice (a rock band from Danville) and first ever fireworks 10 p.m. Saturday night. It will be the same system used at the 4th Fest.

How do you last another 100 years?

With continued support from the community, from our townships, and volunteers. Volunteerism is such an in-demand thing. Unfortunately numbers have declined. When I joined there was six people taking the oath with me and maybe 30 who joined the whole year. Now we might have 10. So it’s volunteerism that we need. That’s how I see we can carry on the next 100 years and see that there will be people who will replace me and so on. Our fire chief over the last 20 years has been the same person, and he (Gary Royer) just stepped down this year. He joined back when I did and he was fire chief for 20 years straight. That is a record for us. Those are my concerns with who will replace these people and myself.

What are some memorable calls you responded to?

The I-80 incident six or seven years ago. I was one of the first on the scene. It turned into a couple-day event. It was tragic. It was a multicar accident with fatalities and unfortunately some of the experiences I have involved fatalities. You don’t forget those. I do have another one. We were at a fire expo in Baltimore and we were at a movie theater. We were angled up backward toward the top and a boy started choking, and his mother started slapping him on the back and his face turned color. Somehow I went down two rows over the top of people and I don’t know how I did it, and came up behind him and gave him the Heimlich (maneuver) and something expelled out. He was OK after that. His mother was frantic and I just moseyed up to my seat, but he kept turning and waving at me the rest of the day. Then another time we were in Illinois with my family and my daughter started choking the same way. I had to do it to her. And those are things I’m thankful I had the training for. You have to stay calm because usually everyone else is frantic.

What are some tips for the newbies?

The biggest thing I would have for anyone would be teamwork. We do have men and women in our fire company. We’re still all volunteers, but we’re here for one reason and one common cause — to serve the community. Any discrepancies need to be put to the side and work together as a team. We have new leadership with the new chief (Lou Brungard) who is just trying to build on that teamwork and get together to do things together as a group even off duty.

What’s next for the company?

We have our carnival. That’s the biggest event. ... Then we have a gun drawing following that on Sept. 13 that we started five or six years ago and it’s turning into a nice event for the fire company. When we get into the gun drawing, it’s a one-day event and it’s a little different atmosphere than the carnival. It’s not so family friendly. There is alcohol and there is a raffle-type thing giving out a gun every 10 minutes, but that can bring in over $5,000 in one day. That’s pretty good and it’s continued to grow in attendance. And then there is an appreciation picnic for people who helped with centennial stuff and then we do something for Fire Prevention Week in October.