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Live-ins help Middletown fire company response time; 'These guys treat you exactly like brothers'

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/3/18

If your house is on fire, seconds count.

Like most other municipalities in the area, Middletown has a fire company made up of volunteers.

They all live within a mile of the firehouse on Adelia …

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Live-ins help Middletown fire company response time; 'These guys treat you exactly like brothers'

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If your house is on fire, seconds count.

Like most other municipalities in the area, Middletown has a fire company made up of volunteers.

They all live within a mile of the firehouse on Adelia Street, including Chief Kenny Whitebread Jr., who lives just a block and a half away. They all try to get there as fast as they can in an emergency.

But nobody can beat Storm Fickes, Zach Cleland and Kody Krupilis to the station — because they all live there. And that’s a good thing for Middletown residents, Whitebread says.

Middletown is among many volunteer fire companies in the area with a “live-in” program.

Live-ins live rent-free at the fire station. In return, they are expected to be first out the door on the engine in case of a fire or other kind of emergency in Middletown, or anywhere else the company is dispatched.

“The minute you hit 911 and start giving them the information, they dispatch the call and you’re not waiting two, three minutes until 911 dispatches it and we get here from home,” Whitebread said. “You’re waiting a couple seconds for them to get out the door because they are living here. It’s a lot faster response time, better for our community and better fire protection by having these guys here.”

How much faster? Fickes and Krupilis have only been living there for only a few months, so it’s too soon for Whitebread to have solid data.

But consider this. Recently, these guys had a rig out the door in 37 seconds, Krupilis said. All three were at the station and awake at the time.

“It’s not always going to be 37 seconds,” Krupilis said, but he added that they can usually be out in about a minute.

Besides cutting response time, having live-ins means the company arrives on the scene with two pieces of firefighting apparatus and crews, in the time it would otherwise take one piece of apparatus to get there. The live-ins are at the scene getting ready to put water on the fire as other volunteers arrive.

Why they are there

Fickes, 20, is from Duncannon. He started there as a firefighter but wanted to get more experience, and hopes to become a paid firefighter someday. He works about 10 minutes away at FedEx on North Union Street.

“I heard about this company being very aggressive and being very good at what they do, so I decided to be a live-in here,” Fickes said. “These guys treat you exactly like brothers when you come in here. They will do anything for you.”

Krupilis and Cleland are both from Middletown and grew up in firefighting families.

“My dad ran (with the fire company) for all of his life. I was always around the firehouse when I was little,” said Cleland, 22, a maintenance worker who has been living at the station on Adelia Street for about a year. “I couldn’t wait to turn 14 to join the fire company.

Krupilis also joined the Middletown company as soon as he could, at age 14. But being a live-in hadn’t been on his radar.

“To be honest with you, it took me a lot to do it,” he said. “I had no bills at home, but these guys talked me into it and I just love it. Like they say, you can’t beat it. It’s like living in a house with full brothers.”

“We literally do everything together,” Krupilis added with a laugh. “We go out to dinner, we cook dinner here, clean the house together … .”

Who can apply?

Now that Penn State Harrisburg students are back in town, Whitebread said he hopes to attract at least three more live-ins. Room can be found in the firehouse for a few more beyond that, if necessary, Whitebread said.

To be a live-in you must be at least 18 years old. You can be male or female and must have some firefighting experience.

“You’ve got to have something you are bringing to the table,” Whitebread said. “You have to have your classes to be able to go inside and fight the fire because if not, it kind of defeats the purpose of what we are trying to accomplish here for the community.”

In addition, you either have to have a full-time job, or you need to be a full-time college student.

Not everyone who applies to Middletown to be a live-in will be accepted. Live-ins must apply in person at the station on Adelia Street, and are then interviewed and evaluated by a fire company committee.

Besides being first out the door to respond to calls, the live-ins are expected to meet all the other requirements of being a Middletown firefighter, including attending the classes and participating in the training.

The housing

Live-ins at the Middletown station have their own 10-by-10-foot room — or “cube” as Whitebread calls it — with a closet, dresser, bed and whatever the live-ins choose to bring, such as a TV and a video game system.

The room is small, but as one of the live-ins pointed out, they don’t spend much time there except to sleep.

Most of the time, the live-ins are hanging out in the common living area downstairs, or in the kitchen downstairs.

The only thing any of the live-ins have to pay for is their own food.

The live-ins bought their own grill. Fickes says he’s the best cook, but Krupilis says that’s still up for debate.

The common area upstairs has two bathrooms, and there’s also a washer and a dryer.

The live-ins can have guests. Guests can tour the station but they aren’t allowed upstairs and they can’t stay overnight.

Cleland, Fickes and Krupilis all have full-time jobs. Two of them work night shift and one works day, so at least one of them is here all the time.

That’s crucial for overnight and on weekdays, the times most difficult because of the work and family obligations of other company members.

There’s no time limit regarding how long a live-in can reside in the fire house. College students often live at the station for the semester, then leave to go home and re-apply for live-in status when they come back, Whitebread said.

Live-ins with full-time jobs, like these three, are more apt to stay year-round.

As Whitebread said, they can stay as long as they want, as long as the situation works out for them and for the fire company.

Middletown had two previous live-ins several years back, but the station wasn’t really set up to house them on a 24/7 basis.

In 2013, the fire company added on to the Adelia Street station, and one of the goals was to have a dedicated 24/7 live-in program, Whitebread said.

“This living area was pretty much geared toward making this live-in friendly for college and young folk to come and want to live in a fire house,” he said.

Reaching more people

Recently Whitebread and Middletown Fire Marshal Mick Shrauder took the three live-ins to Frey Village to help observe and evaluate a fire drill at the facility.

Another benefit of having the live-ins at the station 24/7 is it makes it easier for people in the community to come in and see what the fire company is all about.

“The other night people were walking by, I think we had a group of seven children and probably 10 parents here,” Whitebread said. “We gave them tours of the rigs, tours of the firehouse. People don’t know what the firehouse has to offer for them until they stop in.”

Middletown fire company is using social media to reach young people about its live-in program. Some of the videos and posts on the company’s Facebook page have more than 10,000 views, Whitebread said.

A young man from New York who will attend Penn State Harrisburg learned of the Middletown live-in program through the Facebook page. Whitebread said he hopes to see him soon.

Long-term benefits

While the benefit to Middletown residents is quicker response time right now, the fire company sees things longer term.

“The volunteer fire department throughout the nation is hurting, to get live-ins, to get firefighters period. It’s a dying breed, and that’s unfortunate because you have municipalities that cannot support the funding of a paid fire department,” said Whitebread, adding that the cost of each volunteer firefighter equates to $17 per hour.

“To be able to offer this as another tool in the toolbox, to get people to want to come, to motivate people to want to live here, to motivate them to want to get on my fire trucks — we’ll do whatever it takes.”

Other live-ins

The growth of Penn State Harrisburg is providing a larger pool from which to draw live-ins for companies such as Middletown and Lower Swatara Township. Harrisburg Area Community College, which has a fire training program, is also a source of applicants.

Lower Swatara Fire Department has four live-ins, including two from Penn State Harrisburg and two who work. A fifth live-in who is not a student but who has a job will be moving in soon, said Fire Chief John Weikle.

The fire station can accommodate more, as the station has 13 available beds.

Lower Swatara has advertised its live-in program on the large message board in front of the station along Fulling Mill Road. The fire company website has a page on the live-in program that promotes how close the station is to Penn State Harrisburg, HACC, and other post-secondary schools in the area.

The live-in program has “huge” benefits, Weikle said, the biggest being that response times “are cut way down.”

Live-ins have more opportunities to train because they reside at the station.

They are also charged with taking care of the facility, as they would their own home.

“They have a duty checklist where they have to do their chores. That is part of their rent. That relieves a lot of (company members) from having to clean the firehouse,” Weikle said.

The live-ins get involved in other fire company activities that benefit township residents in other ways.

For example, the live-ins are selling reflective signs that make it easier for firefighters and other first responders to see the address of a house at night.

Proceeds from sale of the signs go to a fund that the live-ins can use to buy a gaming system or something else to make the station more like home. Whatever they buy will stay in the station to be enjoyed by future live-ins, Weikle said.

The only down side Weikle sees to having live-ins is that it can lead to some members living outside the station thinking they don’t have to get to the firehouse as fast in case of an emergency. Otherwise, the pros far outweigh the cons.

Weikle prefers live-in applicants with some firefighting experience, but he’s made at least one exception.

Two years ago, Weikle accepted into Lower Swatara’s live-in program Valerie Frigerio, who came from Virginia.

She had enrolled in Penn State Harrisburg for one semester, and could not find housing for that short a period.

Weikle had quarters for two female live-ins, but none had applied except for Frigerio.

She had no firefighting experience. Other the next two years, she ended up staying at Penn State Harrisburg and got “hooked” on firefighting, Weikle said.

“At first, the guys were teaching her (but) she picked up on it, We paid for her to go to HACC” for fire training. “Now she is probably one of the better firefighters I have” in the entire company, Weikle said. She’s now state certified and “on the nozzle putting the fire out.”

Frigerio is still the only female live-in in Lower Swatara’s program. The company has an opening for one more.

Londonderry Township

Londonderry Township Fire Company has no full-time live-ins at present.

However, the company plans to launch a drive aimed at recruiting live-ins, and attracting new members overall, Deputy Fire Chief Tim Nissley told the Press & Journal.

The company can house up to 12 people overnight at its fire station off Geyers Church Road. There are eight beds for men and four beds for women.

Londonderry has a duty crew that stays overnight in the station to man the ambulance. The company also has a crew that stays overnight in the station every Saturday, Nissley said.

As with Middletown and Lower Swatara, to apply to be a live-in with the Londonderry company you either have to be a full-time college student with a minimum grade point average, or holding down a job with a minimum number of hours per week.

Besides the benefit of quicker response time, the live-ins are required to take care and maintain the station, Nissley noted.