John Engleman was born with public service in his blood.
The Hanover Township resident – better known to many as “Moose” – comes from a long lineage of first responders, particularly fireman. He’s been in the field for more than 26 years, currently acting as a part-time duty operator for both West Pittston Hose Co. 1 and the Hanover Township Fire Department.
In addition to being a fireman, Engleman is a PSAP Supervisor for Luzerne County Emergency 911 Dispatch and has worked for the 911 for nearly two decades.
For his years of service and dedication to the community, Engleman is one of many first responders being honored in the Times Leader’s Badge of Honor special section.
When asked why he continues this line of work, Engleman had a simple answer: he enjoys helping people.
“From a very early age, I wanted to help people and to become a firefighter. Making a positive impact on someone or helping a perfect stranger is a feeling that I can’t put into words,” he said.
He also recalled an incident back in 1993 as a pivotal moment in his career, when he was a young fireman who lost two friends and colleagues during a fire in Pittston. Firemen Lenny Insalaco and John Lombadro lost their lives in the blaze, and Engleman said it was their heroic actions that made him want to continue being a fireman and keep their memories alive.
Speaking on the subject of loss, Engleman explained that being a firefighter has certaintly left him with some positive and negative memories. But one call in particular is never far from the fireman’s mind.
About 15 years ago, Engleman said his crew was called to a house fire during the middle of the night in Hanover Township. Unfortunately, a young girl lost her life in the blaze.
“To this day, I still have nightmares that wake me out of a sound sleep of the father screaming for his ‘baby’ and that his ‘daughter was in there,’” he said. “The unfortunate thing about being (a first responder) is that after seeing tragedy and death over and over, you become numb to what you see on a regular basis.”
When it comes to fire, the husband and father of three said changes in home construction have created new challenges for firefighters. Newer homes, he said, are being built with lighter materials, causing homes to burn faster than ones that were built 20 years ago. These changes are causing houses to burn faster and at a hotter temperature, making a firefighter’s job more dangerous.
One misconception Engleman would like to clear up about the job is the amount of “leisure time” firefighters have. When not on calls, Engleman said crews use their time to clean, check equipment and more, citing daily checklists that must be completed while on duty.
“I think the biggest misconception when it comes to the fire service is that ‘they just sit around all day and don’t do anything,’” he said. “I can assure you, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.”
As for the future of volunteer fire and ambulance stations, Engleman is a believer in strength in numbers. While there’s no denying the Wyoming Valley has seen it’s fair share of community volunteer fire and EMS stations shutter their doors over the years, Engleman said regionalization is the key to keeping these life-saving stations alive and close to home – and has seen it work first-hand.
“We began doing it Hanover Twp. a few years ago, by combining resources within the township. We the created the Hanover Area Fire District. I believe that any organization, profit, nonprofit, youth sports and Fire & EMS need to build safeguards into their organization and create a chain of custody for funds coming in and going out,” he explained.
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