Firefighters and their families, along with firefighting apparatus, swarmed the grounds of the Adams County Emergency Services department on Greenamyer Lane east of Gettysburg Saturday for a special ceremony.

The event was neither a natural disaster nor a fire, but a double dose of good news for emergency services in the county.

The Adams County Emergency Services Training Facility conducted graduation ceremonies for 17 junior firefighters from various fire companies in the region of southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, plus dedicated a new tower.

The training program works with 10 to 24 students, aged 14 to 17, for a week at a time. The students stay in dorm rooms set up in classrooms with adult supervision. They live at the training center for the week. They give up a lot, said Dave Martin, chief of the Fountaindale Fire Company and chair of the Firefighter Training Camp. The week’s course costs $300, and for that week they must live without their cellphones.

“They kind of go crazy for the first few days,” Martin said. “After that, they don’t really miss them that much. Besides, we keep them pretty busy.”

The training academy and the training tower module are all part and parcel of the modern experience of the volunteer firefighting tradition, fitting today’s society.

During his speech at the tower dedication, a reporter commented that Martin became pretty emotional.

He confessed that he really was.

“This means a lot to me. If we don’t hook these kids before they’re 18, we’re probably going to lose them,” Martin said. “Today kids can do anything. They have their own cars and can go anywhere. There are so many things they can do with the electronic stuff out there. It’s tough to compete.”

In the days when areas such as this were overwhelmingly rural, finding personnel to fight fires was relatively simple; nobody complained about folks working in the fields dashing off to fight a neighbor’s fire, because every farm owner knew the next fire could be their own.

Many firefighters or potential firefighters now work in distant towns or perform production jobs that are not so forgiving of workers taking off at the random sound of the sirens.

Experts say more volunteers are needed, or volunteer firefighters will have to become professionals supported by local taxes.

Local volunteers often say new residents moving from elsewhere into this area already believe the firefighters are already supported by local taxes.

With facilities such as the ACVESA complex rising out of a former rural farm field near Gettysburg, organizers hope the current trend will be reversed.

T.W. Burger began is journalism career at the Gettysburg Times in 1985. He worked for several other newspapers in the area during the 1990s and 2000s before returning to the Times as a correspondent in 2013.

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