Quick Response Saved Jefferson County Courthouse

Jefferson County CourthouseBROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – The Jefferson County Commissioners had high words of praise for the area volunteer fire departments that responded to an activated alarm at the county Courthouse on Sunday, October 16.

“If you are looking for a way to give back to your community, maybe consider becoming a volunteer yourself.”
Jack Matson Commissioner

“We cannot thank fire companies and first responders enough,” Commissioner Jack Matson said. “Please take time in the coming weeks and months to thank a volunteer.”

At the commissioners’ meeting, Matson read a report about the incident that detailed the sequence of events at the courthouse.

The initial call came in at 11:16 a.m., and the first unit was on the scene a minute later with Brookville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Steve Hoak (pictured below) entering the building at 11:20 a.m. Hoak didn’t see anything from outside, but once he entered, he saw smoke in the hallway.

At that point, 911 dispatchers upgraded to a structure fire response, bringing the first full alarm.

Jefferson County Emergency Services Directors Tracy Zent was there at 11:21 and he and Hoak determined the fire was electrical.

At that point, power was immediately disconnected from the building and generator. Doing so is an attempt to slow down any type of burning.

Hoak then called for a second alarm due to the size of the building and the potential of fire burning behind a wall where it couldn’t be easily seen.

7:19:16 steve hoak

Fire departments that responded included Brookville, Pine Creek, Corsica, Warsaw Township, Reynoldsville, and DuBois.

In addition, the county Sheriff’s Department, county Maintenance and IT departments, county EMS Ambulance, Brookville Police, Brookville Water Authority, Penelec, and Emergency Services.

Matson explained that thermal imaging cameras were used to determine what was burning, which turned out to be the transformer. Firefighters checked behind all the walls to make sure nothing was burning out of sight.

Before cameras were available, firefighters would feel the walls with the backs of their hands and if it felt hot to the touch, they used axes and pry bars to break through walls, floors and ceilings to see how far the fire had extended beyond its starting point.

“The county avoided a potential disaster because of the quick response and training of our first responders,” Matson said. “The incident was relatively minor considering what could have happened.

“We are blessed to have so many people committed to keeping the people and property of Jefferson County safe,” Matson added.

Matson went on to talk about the challenges facing volunteer fire companies and the drastic decline in the volunteer force.

“Today, it takes a person more than 200 hours of initial training just to become a basic firefighter. If they want to learn Haz-mat, rescue practices, terrorism response, EMS, truck operator that requires additional hours.”

“For example, for someone who wants to be a firefighter, learn how to be an EMT, and be trained in Haz-mat operations, it takes nearly 1,000 hours of training,” Matson said.

While the increased training makes for a better, more skilled firefighter, it also has a toll with fewer people volunteering.

“Volunteer firefighters have many activities, including fund-raising, and people just don’t want to do it anymore,” Matson said. “Pennsylvania, at one time, had more than 300,000 volunteers in the 1980s, but today, there are about 65,000.”

“Volunteer firefighters are needed locally and across the nation, and every company is facing this issue,” Matson said.

The cost of the fire was very low since the fire company opened the windows to allow the smoke to leave the building. An electrician came to fix the wire that burned, and that was about it.

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