Students learn responsibility, community service through Shippensburg Fire Department’s student live-in program
By AMBER SOUTH
Jay Showvaker is a busy guy.
A sophomore studying public administration at Shippensburg University, he has a full load of classes and works hard to stay on top of his responsibilities.
But sometimes that gets interrupted; not by a party invitation, a date or a phone call to simply hang out (not to say these things aren’t part of the mix), but rather the shrieking sound of a fire alarm.
It does not matter if he’s in the middle of pulling an all-nighter to complete a class project, pushing through hours of studying for a test or simply doing a small class assignment due in an hour, it is Showvaker’s job to drop it all the moment a fire emergency arises.
Showvaker gladly takes on this responsibility as a participant in Shippensburg Fire Department’s live-in program for college students. A volunteer fire fighter for years now, the West Chester native said the program was a deciding factor in him choosing SU.
“When I started looking at Ship, I looked around here for a place I could join and they had a live-in program and I thought well, that would help a lot with bills,” he said recently while hanging out in his current home at Vigilant Hose Company in the Shippensburg Area Emergency Services Building.
According to Shippensburg Fire Chief Randy O’Donnell, the department’s three companies — Vigilant, Cumberland Valley Hose Company and West End Fire and Rescue — began offering the program in the 1970s as a way to create a faster response to emergencies.
John Fogelsanger, chief at Cumberland Valley, said the program has allowed Shippensburg to maintain a healthy group of volunteer firefighters at a time when other localities are struggling. Volunteers must complete many requirements, which can be hard to do when they have a full-time job outside of serving as a firefighter, he said.
“With college students coming to the area, that’s unique to Shippensburg because that’s adding to the volunteer’s that Shippensburg’s getting,” Fogelsanger said.
Right now, about 15 students participate in the live-in program. Showvaker said there are seven at Vigilant; Fogelsanger said Cumberland Valley has four; and O’Donnell said there are also about four at West End.
Because the station they choose would essentially be their home, students do research before making the decision.
“Kids now are doing more research before they come to town,” O’Donnell said. “A lot of them are checking out websites to check out how many calls are run, activities run, what programs they have.”
Students also base their decisions on what type of station it is. For example, a student who was part of a ladder company in their hometown may choose Cumberland Valley; if they were part of a rescue service, they may choose West End, O’Donnell said.
Showvaker added that the people at each station play a big part too.
“The people at each department’s different, so if you don’t fit in one place you’re gonna fit in another,” he said. “(The captains will say), ‘OK, you didn’t work out here; go down here, you’ll like it there.”
The accommodations at the three companies are more different now than before. Cumberland Valley and West End both feature a large bunk room where students stay; Vigilant had the same set-up until this summer, when it moved to the new SAEMS building that features a hallway with eight individual, dorm-style rooms.
“It’s real convenient,” Showvaker said.
But maybe a bit less convenient for current Vigilant student members is that the new building, located at the intersection of Orange Street and Walnut Bottom Road, is also farther away from the university. The old building at the intersection of King and Prince streets was just a short walk down the road from the campus.
As mentioned, student live-in volunteers have to be ready for anything.
“You do more than everybody else does because we’re here all the time. As volunteers, if we’re here (we) go,” Showvaker said.
Vigilant gets about eight calls a week, and about 600 a year, Showvaker said. That can lead to many interruptions, so he completes major assignments at least a week ahead of time to ensure he stays on top of his college responsibilities.
“(Student volunteers) have the dedication. That’s one thing we expect of them. They have dedication to that volunteer spirit and will leave what they’re doing to volunteer for emergencies,” O’Donnell said.
Showvaker has found most professors will work with him if duty calls. Just a couple weeks ago, a call came in just two hours before he had a scheduled meeting at the university. He acquired a note explaining the situation and handed it over to his professor.
“He was like OK, I understand. You got caught, you didn’t mean to try and do it, it happens,” Showvaker said.
The stations make accommodations during critical times like finals week, O’Donnell said. He added that the university and its past and current president are supportive of the program.
The fire department’s live-in program has increased the Shippensburg population, at least by a small percentage. O’Donnell said he thinks there’s been a several participants who stayed in the area after college.
“Each station probably has one or two that stuck around and made the Shippensburg community their home,” he said.
While he does not know exactly where he will end up after he’s done at SU, Showvaker hopes to stay in the fire service while hopefully working a government job thanks to the public administration degree he is going after.
“You feel a sense of purpose when you do this stuff. It’s nice to help everybody,” he said. “So as soon as you start it, it doesn’t feel like, you don’t feel like your sacrificing because you know it’s part of your life.”
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 262-4771.