Honoring ScHuylkill county FirEFigHtErS
“I’ve always been an adrenalin junkie. I wanted to be a meteorologist…a storm chaser but I couldn’t handle the math.” So Matthew Swartz graduated from Penn State with a business degree as his “back-up plan”. Instead of business, he concentrated on where he got his first taste of excitement: firefighting. Starting at age 14, Swartz spent 20 years at the Good Will Hose Co. #1 in Frackville – his father’s company – before he moved to Ringtown and the Ringtown Valley Fire & Rescue.
In addition to his work with local fire companies, Swartz is also a paid firefighter. Presently, he is a technician, also known as a vehicle driver, with Engine Company 20 – Northwest in Washington DC. Twice a week, Swartz commutes to DC for a 24 hour shift before returning to Ringtown.
Swartz has the unique position of being both a paid and a volunteer firefighter and said he is asked many times which is better but “I don’t believe in that question. Each has it’s own perks.” Paid firefighters have more experience, simply because of the sheer volume of fire calls. As one of the busiest companies in the nation, his DC Company answers approximately 3,000 calls a year. In comparison, the Ringtown Valley Fire & Rescue – with 30 active members -- answers approximately 100-150 calls each year. “I’m a firefighter. That’s what I know how to do. But in my [Ringtown] company I have carpenters, mechanics, a Boy Scout who is a genius with knots. When you get all these guys together it’s pretty amazing.”
Firefighting is “a science” according to Swartz where people with different knowledge work together to fight a fire in the most efficient way possible. In DC, different firefighters have different specialties, some work with pumpers, others ladder trucks, others rescue. “But up here and in most of Pennsylvania we do everything. We are multi-skilled in different areas of firefighting.”
“I tell people that here we’re competitive. We have high school football and firefighting. Some will do it until they reach their last breath.”