fire school

Firefighters spray water on a burning house being used for training in Cochranton on Sunday. The training was part of this weekend’s annual Crawford - Venango Fire School held over two days at Cambridge Springs High school and at various different locations the school can use for specialized training. Besides fire fighting training, the students go through a variety of classroom and other field work including various accident and industrial accident scenarios involving rescue and securing the scenes.

COCHRANTON — Black smoke billowed skyward, visible blocks away from the burning structure.

On scene, the blazing inferno fed hungrily off of what was left of the house, finally causing it to collapse in a massive heap.

“Get on this line over here,” directed Chip Chiappazzi, chief of Harborcreek Volunteer Fire Department, to a group of young firefighters standing on alert near the hose.

When it comes to training firefighters, there’s nothing like the real thing. And the structural burn course at Sunday’s Crawford - Venango Counties Fire School offered just that.

Chiappazzi, one of the state’s fire instructors for the school, said 26 students from seven different fire departments around the region participated in the course, part of the two-day annual school. Now in its 47th year, the school was attended by more than 200 firefighters taking a wide range of courses on topics including automotive extrication, gas and oil well emergencies, vehicle operations and fire investigations.

Many of those courses take firefighters above and beyond their required 188 hours of essential training, said Chiappazzi.

Those involved in the structural burn course at a donated vacant house in Cochranton were taken out of the classroom to get a first-hand, up-close lesson in what it takes to safely and effectively extinguish a blaze.

During the course, instructors set dozens of controlled burns to replicate situations that happen in real structure fires. Students are separated into teams that are tasked with duties including controlling hoses, entering the structure with thermal imaging cameras to check for hot-spots, overseeing safety and providing additional equipment and assistance when needed.

Many of the students are relative newcomers to firefighting, while others are longtime veterans looking to offer their experience.

Keeping longtime firefighters’ skills honed and getting the next generation of firefighters prepared is what the school’s all about, according to the its organizers and instructors.

Fourteen-year-olds Kaytlyn Moore and Jamie Jones, both junior members of Cochranton Volunteer Fire Department, are still too young to actively battle fires, but attended Sunday’s course to take in the lessons and get some extra training on equipment operations.

Firefighting “is really interesting,” said Moore. “You can save people’s lives.”

Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at

Did you know?

Pennsylvania’s approximately 2,400 volunteer fire and ambulance services are more than that of any other state, according to the state Governor’s Office on Community Affairs and Development. But there’s only about 70,000 active volunteers serving today, as compared to roughly 300,000 in 1970. To find out how you can get involved as a volunteer, contact your local fire department.

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