From the Highlands School District web site

Highlands first responders to firefighters course

Highlands School District and local emergency responder services leaders teamed up to form a new course that will alleviate a nationwide trend of decreasing numbers of volunteers in the district’s neighborhoods.

The Highlands Emergency Services Alliance (HESA), comprised of eight volunteer fire companies, will offer a firefighting course at Highlands High School, allowing students to receive credits for time training and hopefully retaining their services in the community post-graduation.

Students can join a company prior to age 18 as a junior member.

The decreasing number of volunteers can be attributed to the 160 hours of required training, which many adults with one or two jobs and families can’t afford to undertake. By offering the HESA course, which more than 30 students already have enrolled in, the training hours can be completed before adult schedules become so hectic that volunteerism is out of the question.

AKH (Allegheny-Kiski Health) Foundation partnered with HESA through a Community Challenge Grant program.

“The foundation’s role is to help local communities clearly define their goals, and provide organizational support and financial incentive,” said AKH Foundation President and CEO John Pastorek.

The AKH Foundation will grant $25,000 to HESA if they achieve their Challenge goal of reaching 500 local families through its Life Safety Community Outreach programs. HESA will establish a scholarship endowment for students who complete the program with those funds.

Mike Krzeminski, a social studies teacher and Certified State Instructor, will teach the course at Highlands High School. The class will a role model course, as it is the first in the state and possibly the nation to offer this program during regular school hours.

“There are skills to be learned, but there is also discipline,” Mr. Krzeminski said. “And it all will start here in the new fire training class offered at Highlands High School.”

During Fire Safety Month (October), groups of students will inspect residential smoke alarms to make sure they are operational.

Safety Expo to feature Highlands students

A Safety Expo will be held in the parking lot of the Heights Plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. The expo will feature students of Mr. Mike Krzeminski, a Certified State Instructor in fire safety and a social studies teacher at the High School. Mr. Krzeminski will be instructing more than 30 students firefighting and life-saving skills in a one-of-a-kind course offered this year through the Highlands Emergency Services Alliance (HESA).

HESA is comprised of eight local volunteer fire companies. By offering the course at the high school level, there is potential to increase the number of volunteers locally or open doors to an exciting and rewarding career for some students' futures.

The Safety Expo is sponsored by the Allegheny-Kiski Health Foundation, which also partnered with HESA through a Community Challenge Grant program.

The innovative, unique program is being used as a role model course for other schools and organizations throughout the country.
Bell rings for firefighting class at Highlands
By Tom Yerace
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Buzz up!

When the school year starts in August, some Highlands students won't need a fire lit under them to get enthused; they'll be learning how to fight them.

Late last year, the school board approved a course at the high school to teach firefighting skills, strategies and techniques to students. "I'm really excited about it," said Mike Krzeminski, a social studies/government teacher at the high school and a firefighter with Harrison's Hilltop Hose. He said Highlands is the first school district in the country to attempt this.

The idea is to inspire students to continue on as volunteer firefighters serving their communities. They possibly could earn a living as firefighters in paid municipal departments or in private industry. "We're hoping that that will increase the membership in these companies," said Tarentum Borough Manager Bill Rossey, a firefighter with Highland Hose for 35 years. "We're all struggling."

Rossey thought that a high school course could stem that tide. He said all nine volunteer fire companies in the school district endorsed the idea and formed the Highlands Emergency Services Alliance to move the proposition forward. Rossey approached Krzeminski, Hilltop Hose's training officer, about teaching such a class. Krzeminski did not have to be persuaded. He, Rossey and the HESA developed a course outline, which the administration OKed and the school board approved as a three-credit course.

"We figured what better way to do this than to teach it in school because nobody wants to go to classes at night or after school," Rossey said. "We're going to teach them first aid, CPR, plus basic fire service and emergency service techniques." With schedules still being built for the fall, Krzeminski said he doesn't know how many students have signed up for the elective course. Between 20 and 30 students, the maximum the class could hold, are believed to have signed up.

Sophomore Jeremy Fox, 15, of Tarentum, and junior Steve Negrich, 16, of Harrison have signed up. "I think it is a good idea, that it can get some kids out of trouble, get them in to a fire company and help the community," said Fox, a junior member of Sarver Volunteer Fire Co. "It's a fun trade. It's got its dangers, but that's the risk you've got to take, it's part of the job."

Negrich, a junior member of Hilltop Hose, said, "I was excited, instantly. It's something you can train for in-school instead of having to go after school. It's nice. "I like how we'll get to use our equipment during the class and do what we would do at a fire."

Krzeminski said that the year-long class, which will meet every day, will involve practical firefighting exercises as well as classroom work. For that reason, he said students who enroll must provide their own equipment, such as turnout coats, pants, boots and a helmet. "They are going to need to join a local fire department," he said. That's how they can get that equipment, as well as insurance coverage for the training. But Krzeminski knows that there will be some students who haven't joined a fire company. He said they can't participate in the practical exercises but will, as an alternative, be able to develop correct strategies by using computer simulators of fire scenes.

"My goal with the course is that when a student from my program turns 18, they will have met all the prerequisites and they will be well-prepared for the Firefighter 1 certification test," Krzeminski said. "That makes them a certified firefighter in the state of Pennsylvania." "They have to raise ladders, stretch hoses, do all the basic functions that a firefighter does."

Krzeminski and Rossey said state Sen. Sean Logan is working to land a $15,000 grant for the program to pay for the textbooks and some equipment. There are several other grants for which the Krzeminski and the HSEA is applying to pay for course materials. "Really, the only thing the school district is paying for is the instructor," Rossey said.

Krzeminski is anxious to get started. "I'm also very excited about teaching a class where discipline has to be so high," he said. " A lot of young people don't have discipline. "For this class, it's not optional, it has to be there. It's a matter of life and death."

Tom Yerace can be reached at or 724-226-4675
From the Highlands School District web site

Highlands Emergency Services Alliance (HESA) donated 21 firefighter equipment bags to the students in the High School.

The students, participants in Mr. Michael Krzeminski's HESA-affiliated firefighting instruction course, can use the bags to transport firefighting equipment to and from school. The durable, heavyweight bags cost more than $800, and were supplied through a donation made by Mr. Sam Huey. Mr. Huey presented the bags to the students in early December.

The course is a unique, pilot program class that instructs firefighting and emergency services skills to students in hopes of sparking interests in the field and recruiting members at a younger age. Since its initiation, other school districts and emergency services departments are monitoring the course and anticipate launching similar classes in the future.

Thank you, HESA and Mr. Huey, for supporting our students!
Many people and organizations conduct studies and write reports. While the methodology and numbers may vary, it would appear that roughly 78% of the United States and 39% of it's population are covered by volunteer firefighters. Now subtract from that about a 1% loss per year and average that over 20 years. The number of volunteer firefighters has declined  Through this
program, we hope to get school students, maybe even their parent(s) involved with a department in their community. For those already involved, THANK YOU.
Highlands Emergency Services Alliance
Firefighting class ignites Highlands students' interest
By Doug Gulasy,
Thursday, May 28, 2009

A year ago, Highlands became the first school district in the country to offer a firefighting skills course. Now, interest in the class is growing faster than the fires students are taught to battle.

"(The class) has gone very, very well," said Mike Krzeminski, a social studies/government teacher at the high school who teaches the course. "It has exceeded my expectations in many ways."

The course is sponsored by Highlands Emergency Services Alliance, which includes all but one of the fire companies in Tarentum, Brackenridge, Harrison and Fawn.

The course was created to get students interested in volunteering for their local fire departments, which have suffered from low volunteer numbers in recent years. The lack of volunteers is felt "all over the country," said alliance President Bill Rossey, Tarentum Borough manager. "It's not just this area where we have a lack of firefighters." Rossey said there were 350,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania in the 1970s, but there are just 50,000 now. "That's staggering," he said. "People don't realize that."

Krzeminski said five or six of the 21 students in the class became volunteers after taking the course. He said five or six more were interested but were still too young, while other students already had served as volunteers. Highlands will continue the class next year and Krzeminski estimated there would be between 25 and 30 students. Of that number, many will be students from this year's class who decided to take the course again.

Junior Steven Rea is one of them. He earned five certifications with the class this year. "I was just interested in what was being taught, and training always helps us," Rea said. Rea served as a volunteer for Harrison Hills Volunteer Fire Company prior to taking the class. While he is considering a career in firefighting, he is still undecided.

The school district is considering a second class to teach more advanced firefighting techniques to go along with the current introductory course, but Krzeminski said that wouldn't be offered until at least the 2010-11 school year.

Krzeminski is taking classes at the state fire academy this summer to become certified to teach the four "essentials" of firefighting in his class next year: introduction to firefighting, fire ground support, exterior firefighter and interior firefighter.

While Highlands was the first district to offer a firefighting training class, Krzeminski said he has been contacted by other schools interested in starting similar courses. He told them cooperation from area fire departments is paramount for such a class to succeed. "That's why this is working: because we have the cooperation of numerous fire departments," Krzeminski said.

"We can't agree on color of fire apparatus or brand of fire apparatus," Krzeminski said, "but we agree this is important."

Training facility in works.

The Highlands Emergency Services Alliance still is pursuing the construction of a fire training center on the Highlands High School campus in Harrison to be used in conjunction with the school's firefighting course. HESA originally pitched the idea to the school board in February. The board gave the alliance permission to look for a location but hasn't allowed construction to take place.

HESA President Bill Rossey said an estimated cost for the facility hasn't been determined. The association submitted a grant request for $700,000 through the Department of Homeland Security for a mobile training facility. Rossey said this trailer would be the first step in getting a full training facility. If the facility is built, local fire departments will be able to use it to continue their training and to help renew state-required certifications. Rossey said HESA plans to continue working with the firefighting class in the future.

"We're definitely committed to and involved with this program," he said.

Doug Gulasy, an intern for the Valley News Dispatch, can be reached at
From the Highlands School District web site
March 1, 2010

The Highlands Emergency Services Alliance and students of this elective program were featured in an article of a bimonthly publication of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association as a "Bright Idea" describing innovative programs, concepts and techniques in PA schools. Please click the following link to read the article.
From and the Valley News Dispatch

Pa. Colleges Waiver Fees for FFs

Brian C. Rittmeyer - The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.

Posted: Mon, 05/03/2010 - 00:08

May 2--Ethan Sabulsky doesn't know what he wants to do after he completes his work towards a college associate's degree, but he knows he'll graduate without the burden of loan debt hanging over his head. That's because Sabulsky, 20, of Lower Burrell, is a volunteer firefighter, and benefiting from a Westmoreland County Community College program that offers tuition waivers to volunteer firefighters.

A firefighter with Lower Burrell No. 3 since he was 14, Sabulsky is pursuing a fire science degree and is looking at careers as a paid firefighter or arson investigator. "It's awesome. It definitely helps out," he said of the college's program. "You see kids taking out loans and being in debt. I don't have to do anything besides pay for books and taxes."

Westmoreland County Community College and the Community College of Allegheny County both offer tuition waiver programs for volunteer firefighters in their respective counties. While they differ in the details, they both aim for the same result: recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters. There aren't many incentives for people to volunteer as firefighters. And on the flip side, there's a big commitment of time and energy -- training, fundraising and responding to calls at all hours.

The most recent study estimated the ranks of the state's volunteer firefighters at about 70,000 -- down from 300,000 in 1976. The numbers continue to decline, said Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Ed Mann. "I honestly think that number is lower than that based on my travels, conversations with fire chiefs and my experience in my own fire station," said Mann, an assistant chief at the East Berry Fire Co. in Mifflin County. "There might be little corners where things are terrific, but if you look at it from a statewide perspective, the numbers are down and they continue to dwindle."

WCCC has had its program for eight to nine years, President Daniel Obara said. It offers a full tuition waiver for new volunteer firefighters, and a half-tuition waiver for existing firefighters. About 160 people have gone through the program; about 25 sign up each year, Obara said. Volunteer firefighters are the only group to which the college offers tuition waivers. "We thought it was a good way to help the fire departments recruit new members to their companies and also retain them," Obara said. "It works out well for them. It gives them an incentive to stay with the fire department and continue their education at the same time."

David Maloney, 21, of Lower Burrell started as a junior firefighter at Lower Burrell No. 3 five years ago. He'll graduate on Thursday with a criminal justice degree, and wants to be a police officer. He received a full tuition waiver at WCCC, which he figures has saved him up to $9,000. "It was much help. Just the whole fact I don't have to worry about finding ways to find money to pay for school," he said. "I like the fact they're helping firefighters."

CCAC launched its "FireVEST" program with Allegheny County in 2008. It graduated its second student in December. Allegheny's program provides full scholarships to new and existing volunteer firefighters, covering tuition, fees and books. Those awarded a scholarship must serve as a volunteer firefighter for five years in the county and fulfill other firefighting and academic requirements.

About 76 students are now enrolled, said Charles Blocksidge, executive director of the CCAC-Allegheny County Workforce Alliance. The program allows for up to 150 scholarships. "We've got over 200 volunteer fire companies throughout Allegheny County, and it's been projected that the economic return on that is somewhere around $60 million, just because of the volunteer nature of the service," Blocksidge said. "It's a service that obviously is essential for the safety of the communities throughout the county as well as a tremendous economic savings."

Mann said the college programs are good ideas, and more incentives are needed. "Any tool we can put in our tool box that helps us with recruiting and retention is a plus," Mann said.

The college programs would seem to be a natural fit for students taking the fire service training class now in its second year at Highlands High School. Its instructor, Michael Krzeminski, said he knows at least one student who is very interested in CCAC's FireVEST program.

"Our state has no plan for what to do if volunteer fire companies go away," he said. "There's no way they could even begin to consider funding to replace volunteers with career staff. It's not even a plan. FireVEST is great."

The class was born from the Highlands Emergency Service Alliance, comprised of the fire departments serving the district's four communities. It was seen as a solution to the departments' recruiting problems.

In the current class of 20 students, all but six are volunteering. The class is an elective and meets five days a week for the entire school year. Students study landmark incidents, from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and practical skills, such as use of fire extinguishers. The alliance has long-range plans to build a fire training center on the high school grounds.

Krzeminski, a firefighter with Hilltop Hose in Harrison, said what he sees in the class gives him hope for the future. "We need to think of tomorrow," he said. "Who's going to be jumping on the truck when I'm too old to do this? It's hard to be optimistic. "(Then) I look at the men and women in my class, and I'm very optimistic."

Brian C. Rittmeyer can be reached at or 724-226-4701
From the Valley News Dispatch

Highlands High School event seeks help from public
Buzz up!By Brian C. Rittmeyer, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Monday, April 12, 2010

A car cruise and concert planned for this August will raise money toward building a training center for firefighters on the grounds of Highlands High School.

To help stage the event, organizers are vying for a $5,000 grant from the "Refresh Project," which relies on online votes from the public to determine the winner. Voting began April 1. The idea was rising in the competition. As of Sunday, it ranked 37th, -- up from 70th out of 190 a week ago and from the 160s a week earlier. The top 10 ideas in this category at the end of voting on April 30 will receive $5,000 grants.

"The more money we can get toward the fundraiser, the more you make in the end," said Rhonda Russell of Frazer. "The only way we're going to be successful is if we get community support. Everybody can go on and vote every single day." Russell and her husband, Jim, hold an annual car cruise to benefit the Alle-Kiski Historical Society and other nonprofit organizations, with the exception of last year. The last cruise in 2008 benefitted Eureka Fire Rescue.

The Russells are pursuing the grant with the Allegheny Kiski Health Foundation to benefit the two-year-old Highlands Emergency Service Alliance. The alliance consists of the nine volunteer fire departments serving the communities in the Highlands School District -- Brackenridge, Fawn, Harrison and Tarentum. An elective class teaching students firefighting and related skills is in its second year at Highlands High School with 21 students. The class is intended to help bolster the ranks of volunteer fire companies with new and young members.

The fire training facility the alliance plans to build has an estimated cost of $250,000, said alliance President Bill Rossey, Tarentum's borough manager and a Highlands Hose firefighter. It would be used by students and volunteer firefighters throughout the area. No such training facilities exist in the Valley; firefighters here have to travel to North Park, Pittsburgh or Butler for training, Rossey said.

The facility could be used for training in entering and maneuvering inside a smoke-filled building and using equipment such as ladders, air packs, extinguishers, and hoses.  "We would like to have something closer to us. When you have all these guys go out of town for training, you leave your town defenseless," Rossey said. "This way they can get the training they need right here in their local community,"

With donated architectural services, the alliance is still working on the plans and design of the training facility, which Rossey said is part of the alliance's long-term goals and could take a few years to realize. Having such a facility on the school grounds will help increase interest in the class, he said. If received, $3,400 of the grant would be used to cover the cost of a "name band" to draw a crowd; $600 for the rental of the park and stage facility; $600 for advertising; and $400 for flyers and miscellaneous expenses. The Refresh Project will award up to $1.3 million this month to the ideas with the most votes -- two $250,000 grants and 10 each of $50,000, $25,000 and $5,000. This month, 1,143 ideas are in the running. Finalists will be announced May 1.

With or without the grant, the concert and car cruise will go on Aug. 8 at Deer Lakes Park. Admission will cost $6 per person, with kids 12 and younger admitted for free. William Dell & the Wee Jams are slated to play and the event will feature antique and classic cars, safety booths, food vendors and crafts. The show is expected to draw 250 show cars.

Rhonda Russell said they hope to raise several thousand dollars for the training center.
August 12, 2010


Jeremy Fox (Highland Hose), recipient of the Albert E. Wicks Service Award, Junior Firefighter of the Year from the Western Pennsylvania Firemen's Association. Jeremy won this award for his community service and advocating fire training classes at Highlands High School (HESA).
Original link posted August 27th. Updated with the second link on September 29, 2011


Jeremy Fox (HESA Alumni and Board Member) for being honored with the Hereda/Terrini Memorial Junior Firefighter Award by the Pennsylvania Firemen's Association as the Commonweath of Pennsylvania's Top Junior Firefighter.

Here are links to articles in the Valley News Dispatch.