New Year’s is a time to make resolutions that add purpose to your life. There’s no better way to do this than by volunteering for the Jenkintown Fire Department. Volunteers protect their community, help their neighbors on their worst days, and make friends that last a lifetime.
Jenkintown Fire Department is comprised of two stations: Pioneer and Independent Fire Companies, both of which were formed in the 1880s. Together they respond to some 300 calls each year.
Three volunteer firefighters from Independent — two new and one returning — explain how joining the company is transforming their lives.
John Nungesser, 26, the newest volunteer, joined the station in September. “I hate to sound like a cliché, but this has been a dream come true. I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 3 years old.”
Moving from Philadelphia to Jenkintown in September gave him his first chance to volunteer. “I jumped on it. It only took me two weeks to sign up.”
Ramon Diaz joined Independent as a junior firefighter when he was 14 years old and has volunteered there ever since. This year he turned 18 and graduated from Jenkintown High School.
In November, Ramon completed the Firefighter 1 course and is excited to take on additional responsibilities on the exterior of burning buildings. “Once I get my hazardous materials certification, I’ll be able to help my crew on the inside,” explains Diaz.
As a child, Diaz spent time at a family friend’s firehouse. Diaz watched in awe as a team of firefighters mobilized in minutes to respond to an alarm.
At that moment, he knew this was what he wanted to do. “They worked so closely together, and they did it to help other people. I’ll never forget it,” said Diaz.
David Litts comes from a family of firefighters. His grandfather was the chief of the Ogontz Fire Station, and his uncle was a firefighter there. He always wanted to follow in this family tradition.
At 17, Litts became a junior firefighter at the station and served as a firefighter there for 14 years, until he moved to the South. For twenty-two years he worked in emergency and rescue operations. His experience at Independent was so rewarding that he rejoined when he moved back to Jenkintown in 2020 at the age of 54.
All three are emphatic that there’s no stronger community than the one at their station. Says Litts, “the volunteers are brothers and sisters. There’s nothing like the relationships that build at a firehouse. If someone’s in need, hurt, or sick, the volunteers rally around them.”
This truth was brought to life for him shortly after returning to Jenkintown. Litts’ long-time friend, Beth, had encouraged him to return to Jenkintown, the place he loved, and to firefighting, the work he loved most. Beth died shortly after he underwent abdominal surgery. “Everyone at the station took care of me, checked on me, kept me motivated, and busy. It meant the world to me.”
Likewise, Diaz says, starting at the age of 14, I became part of a brother and sisterhood that’s family to me. I have another home. It’s been a blessing.”
“We have a great crew. Everyone is committed to serving the community and being there for each other.”
In just three months as a volunteer, John says, “the volunteers have become my family. I respond to as many alarms as I can. The volunteers go out of their way to teach me the ropes.” He couldn’t be happier.
As Nungesser sees it, “one reason for the closeness is the intense focus on teamwork. It’s the most important thing I’ve learned—how to rely on others and have them rely on me.”
The key is communication, he explains. In high pressure situations, “we learn how to talk and listen to each other. It’s the only way firefighting works.” These skills, he believes, will serve him in all areas of his life.
Nungesser, Diaz, and Litts are thrilled with the education they receive as volunteers both inside and outside of classes. Diaz and Litts just completed the Firefighter 1 national certification course — Litts for the second time since his initial certification expired and the science of firefighting has evolved in the 20 years he was away. Nungesser is excited to begin Firefighter1 in January 2022.
“Our certification courses are intensive, and we conduct lots of exercises and drills at the station. We also have a lot to read on our own to stay abreast of the most current knowledge, which constantly grows,” explains Litts.
Diaz wants others considering volunteer firefighting to know that the department is committed to the ongoing education of its volunteers.
He explains, “It means a lot to me that the department will pay for any training and certification classes to make me a better firefighter.”
The mentorship and support among volunteers are perhaps the most meaningful form of training. With Litts’ experience, young firefighters — or as Litts puts it, “his kids” — turn to him for guidance and mentoring. He treasures his relationships with them.
At the academy, Litts and Diaz were partners. In training and in the field, Litts’ experience and Diaz’s strength are a perfect match.
Says Litts, “Ramon’s a fantastic kid. He has latched on to me and I’m mentoring him. He’s so hungry to learn that I meet with him at the station three times a week to do training exercises.”
Both Nungesser and Diaz plan to pursue careers as full-time firefighters.
Nungesser, Diaz, and Litts are driven to firefight out of a desire to serve others. When a call comes in, Litts says, “we become completely focused on doing our jobs, helping people in need, there’s no time to think about ourselves. Our goals are to save lives and property and restore order out of chaos.”
Each of the volunteers at the Jenkintown Fire Department shares this mission. It’s the glue that binds them together as a family and pushes them to seek excellence. They share a deep pride in their work.
Says Litts, “it made me so happy to return to the close-knit community of Jenkintown. It’s our privilege to serve it.”
The Jenkintown Fire Department is always looking for volunteers. Diaz wants those considering it to know that “the department is very diverse and open to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what your experience is. We’re happy to have you on our team.”
If you want to be the neighbor who saves a neighbor, fights fire, protects properties, and forges friendships, Jenkintown Fire Department has a place for you. Along with firefighting, there are many ways to volunteer:
- Firefighter: Train to fight fires and respond to traffic accidents, hazardous material (HAZMAT) events, rescues and other dangerous situations.
- Fire Police: The fire police are attached to the Pioneer Fire Company. Their primary duty is to ensure the safety of firefighters going to and from the fire scene. They also direct traffic at the scene and provide security and crowd control. The fire police also prevent thieves from accessing a burned building until it can be boarded up.
- Contributing Members: Not everyone has to run into a burning building to help. Contributing members are needed for administrative tasks, fundraising or serving on the board. The Jenkintown Fire Department sponsors the annual 4th of July Parade. There’s plenty to do besides fighting fires!
- Junior Firefighter: Age 14 through 17. Train and learn the skills you need to become a firefighter when you turn 18. While you can’t go into a burning building until you are 18, you can help the firefighters at the scene of a fire. And it’s a great activity to list on your college resume.
If any of these roles interest you, the New Year is a great time to start. We provide all the training and equipment you need to answer calls, and you will not find anything more rewarding than giving back to your community.
Complete the inquiry form at www.fightjenkintownfires.org and member of the Jenkintown Fire Department will contact you soon.