South Whitehall Township's Volunteer Fire Subcommittee has been working with volunteer firefighters to boost their biggest asset -- people. 

South Whitehall's Board President Christina "Tori" Morgan said she and former President Brad Osborne initiated the subcommittee about 1.5 years ago to improve communication with area volunteer firefighters. David Bond currently serves on the committee.

"We saw a very large disconnect with how firefighters could communicate with the township - through no fault of their own," Morgan said.

Realizing that a bunch of equipment meant nothing if there weren't enough firefighters to operate them, the subcommittee put people at the top of their list of priorities.

They approached Parkland Superintendent Richard Sniscak about reviving a firefighting course at Parkland High School that was dropped due to lack of interest and, Morgan said, "They didn't hesitate and said they'd love to help."

Eric Gopen, a Parkland social studies teacher and volunteer firefighter for the Lower Macungie Fire Department, will be teaching the class.

"I volunteered to help with the class because many of the students here at Parkland High School expressed interest in it when they found out I was a volunteer firefighter," Gopen said.

He said he will share teaching with Barry Search, assistant chief at Woodlawn Fire Department in the township and retired Parkland High School science teacher, who originally taught the course years ago. 

Sniscak said, "We look at it as more of a community service because all three townships are served by a volunteer force. The more we can help create our own, the better."

Gopen, who recently retired as Parkland basketball coach, became interested in firefighting after a visit to his local fire company.

"I liked what I saw and dove into the training head first, taking the Firefighter One, Hazardous Materials, and Basic Vehicle Rescue courses in the first year," Gopen said. "I've also taken the training to drive and operate the trucks. It's been a lot of fun."

Gopen said most of the current junior firefighters at Parkland High School have told him they plan to enroll and bring friends with them.

"The goal is to increase the number of junior firefighters that volunteer for the local fire companies and have them remain with the departments after they graduate from high school," Gopen said.

Here is the course description as it appears in the Parkland Course Directory:

The course incorporates the principles of physics, chemistry and biology as they relate to firefighting.  

Physics topics include friction loss in water and other fluids, simple machines, and the calculation of mechanical advantage. Students learn the principle of operation behind the use of rescue apparatus such as the jaws of life and thermal imaging tools.  

Topics in chemistry include combustion, fire, and the by-products of materials during and after combustion. MSDS sheets will be incorporated.  

Topics in biology relate to the study of biological agents, decontamination procedures, and response gear. Certification is offered in CPR and First Aid.

Elements of math are considered as they relate to the various topics. The course is extremely “hands-on” and involves all of the resources used in the fire service (protective clothing, air packs, tools, ropes, engines, and hose lines).

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