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Phillips reflects on more than 5 decades of fire service

July 27, 2018 GMT

Since joining the Scalp Level & Paint Fire Department in 1966, station Cmdr. Terry Phillips reflected on changes he has experienced in the fire service after 52 years.

“They changed the way of tactics for fighting fires because they found out they were losing too many firefighters in the newer tactics they were using,” Phillips said. “So, about two or three years ago, they started a program to go back. It’s still in transition.”

Phillips said firefighters face other challenges outside of the call to fight fires.

“Membership is down, real down,” he said. “The other thing is getting money to operate. They can give you up to a certain amount of money on a millage. It’s hard because nobody wants to give up any of their tax money, and they feel that, if they do, that people get upset.”

Phillips said he felt that the department’s volunteer firefighters made an important decision to combat declining membership.

“Probably about 25 years ago, we started having women in the fire service. We had two at first. We used to run an ambulance out of here, and they used to work on EMS. But we made them take all the fire training,” he said.

“Training is real big in our department. You have to have the training to get where you’re at.”

Phillips has worn many hats within the volunteer fire department, including president director, fire chief, assistant fire chief, safety officer and commander. Phillips also has a résumé of over 1,000 collective hours of firefighter training.

He said firefighters must be committed to their work.

“You have to have the commitment. That’s it. If you don’t have the commitment, it’s a waste of time,” Phillips said, offering advice to people with interest in firefighting.

“Especially if you’re young and have a family. If you’re committed like I was committed, it gets time consuming. A lot of times, you’re away from your family,” he said. “But my wife understood that when we got married, so there was no big deal — for me anyhow,” Phillips said.

Phillips is retired from People’s Natural Gas Co. and said he used to go camping with his family in his spare time. He is married to his wife, Joyce. They have two children and three grandchildren.

“I loved to camp because I was in the Boy Scouts. I used to tent it, but then I got smart and got a trailer. But I don’t do much of that anymore,” Phillips said, adding that some of his favorite places to camp include state parks like Yellow Creek, Indiana County, and Shawnee, Bedford County.

“When I had the little kids, we took off and we were going to spend a week at Shawnee, and it rained every day. When we came back from Shawnee, the sun came out. When we went back over, it rained, and the people booed us when we pulled in,” Phillips said while he laughed about his family’s rainy trip.

Richard Opett, who is a past fire chief and currently serves as a member of the fire department’s board of directors, said he’s been in the department with Phillips for “50-some years.”

“He’s a very dedicated individual. When he takes on a challenge or a responsibility, he follows through all the way with it,” Opett said. “You can count on him every time.”

Phillips said his dedication to the fire department began in the fall of 1966 when a man became lost after he had walked away from a retirement home in Paint Borough and was found dead due to exposure.

“He had walked down past my house where I lived, and I went with the fire company to help them look for him because I knew what he looked like,” he said. “We went all the way over to Hollsopple on the railroad tracks looking for him. It was right after that, that I joined the fire department, and I’ve been there ever since.”