SRU student first to answer the call for fire company’s live-in program

Live in fire fighter in the bunk room

Kyle Lewis is the first Slippery Rock University student to take advantage of the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Company’s live-in program, which provides participants housing at the station in exchange for four on-call duty periods each week.

Oct. 24, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - As a budget-conscious college student, Kyle Lewis was more than ready to answer the call for free housing for his final semester at Slippery Rock University. But in doing so, he had to be prepared to also answer another type of call - the kind that comes in the middle of night - when the Slippery Rock community needs him as a first responder.

Lewis, a senior safety management major from Butler, is the first SRU student to take advantage of a live-in program created by the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Team last year. For the fall semester, Lewis is living in a 400-square-foot bunk room, just one of the amenities inside SRVFC's 5,500-square-foot Rescue Building that was built in 2015 near the corner of Elm and New Castle streets. The SRVFC provides his housing in exchange for Lewis remaining on call for four overnight duty periods per week.

The son of a paramedic who considered the Saxonburg Volunteer Fire Company's ambulance station his "second home" as a child, Lewis doesn't mind having a home that is unconventional for a college student, or anyone else for that matter.

"It's free housing; I just have to keep my room clean," Lewis said with a laugh and no mention of the greater responsibility of protecting the property and lives of people in the community. "I figured this would help the station by being the first one through the wall and figuring out what works and what doesn't so we can get it going."

A certified Emergency Medical Technician for the last seven years, Lewis has taken up one of the six empty bunks that SRVFC officers hope become occupied by other students interested in the new live-in program. Among the requirements to enter the program, Lewis earned his Pennsylvania Firefighter 1 Certification last June, which is also offered by the SRVFC through Butler County Community College.

"The days of volunteer firefighters are slowly coming to an end," said Ryan Hanchosky, chief of SRVFC. "The amount of people who find time to do the training required for the fire department is getting slim, but there's a lot of kids who are coming to SRU who already trained in their hometowns and come to the University with fire and EMS backgrounds. So we decided to open our facility to try to get some people to help on our end running fire and ambulance calls by creating the live-in program."

According to Hanchosky, there are about 25 volunteer firefighters at the SRVFC, which responds to upwards of 500 fire calls per year. For a truck to respond to a call, there needs to be at least three firefighters available, two of which need to have FF1 certification.

"It's a big benefit for us to have someone who is trained, qualified and ready to respond," Hanchosky said.

Additionally, SRVFC responds to about 1,800 ambulance calls per year. Those runs are covered by EMTs and a number of the firefighters, who, like Lewis, are certified EMTs. However, at any time there are at least two full-time EMTs on duty.

"When a job needs done and you're in dangerous situations, that's where the camaraderie comes in," said Lewis, who often answers calls outside of his regular 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. duty periods. "You suck it up and do it. There could be a big fire or a bad accident and you haven't slept, but you're in it together."

Lewis recalls at least one night so far this semester that required responding to multiple overnight calls: an alarm set off at the University, someone's patio furniture catching fire and a car accident on Interstate-79.

"It's been a little more hectic (compared to his previous year at SRU living in an off-campus apartment)," said Lewis, who transferred to SRU from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017 and joined the SRVFC as a volunteer that spring. "I have to plan my nights ahead of time. I can't go out with my buddies when I have to be on duty at 11 p.m. Every once in a while it kicks into your sleep but anyone who is an EMT or a firefighter lives that lifestyle."

The experience is worthwhile for Lewis, who aspires to work in safety management in the construction industry after graduating from SRU in December.

"That kind of mentality and being ready applies directly to my major," said Lewis. "Employers prefer to hire people with emergency certifications and some require workers with first-aid and CPR certifications. Safety management is all about planning for what could go wrong, how you're going to handle it and have a response plan in place."

Lewis said he is able to utilize the Rescue Building's conference room as his personal study space, and takes advantage of the station's other amenities, like wireless internet, a workout room and a common room where he can watch television and socialize with the other on-call EMTs.

"It's a fun lifestyle," Lewis said. "I enjoy it and I wouldn't want to do anything else. It kicks your butt sometimes but you get to help people and get to be a bit of a hero. You don't think about that too much when you're doing it, so I tell people, 'Who else is going to come running up to a whole structure on fire and take care of it?'"

For more information about SRVFC's live-in program, including an application and policy, visit srvfc.com or email rockfirerescue@gmail.com.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu