By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Leslie Young said she was very surprised at being named state Firefighter of the Year by the Department of the Pennsylvania American Legion.
“I had no idea,” said Young, deputy chief of the Mahoning Township East End Fire Department, Wednesday night.
She was told to visit the Danville American Legion Post 40 during the monthly meeting of Legion members and the home association. They told her Post 40 was going to present a donation to East End.
The Legion post and the fire department sponsored her nomination for the award. Post Commander Dean VonBlohn learned she had won Monday.
VonBlohn said he called Legion headquarters in Wormleysburg to find out if they received the 45-page packet of information submitted for Young’s nomination.
“They put me in touch with the law and order committee and asked what his name was,” VonBlohn said. “ I said I don’t think it’s a him — it’s a lady and the person on the phone said by the way she won.”
Young’s name has already been submitted for consideration for the national Legion award.
East End Chief W. Todd Gibson said VonBlohn contacted him last fall about the award. “We all unanimously said Leslie was the ideal candidate for the prestigious award,” Gibson said of himself and fellow firefighters. “She’s very much deserving of the honor. She’s a humble and gracious leader for the community.”
Also accompanying Young to the Legion were her husband, Kevin, who serves as a fire company trustee, Lt. Josh Poticher, Chief Engineer Sam Hunsinger, Engineer Lloyd Craig and member Chuck Eyer.
Legion members also voted to give Young $500 to help with travel expenses and for her hard work as a volunteer firefighter.
If she receives the national award, all her expenses would be paid to the Legion’s national convention.
As state winner, she will be invited to attend the Legion state convention July 17-21 in Harrisburg.
“We’re real proud of her,” VonBlohn said.
He didn’t know how many nominees were received for the award but said he understood there was “a good amount for the entire state.”
The information sent for the award included letters from the Montour County commissioners, the post and fire company.
Young, serving her fourth year as deputy chief, joined the East End company 16 years ago. She was dating her husband, a former East End chief, at the time. “I would go Tuesday nights to hang out and they kept telling me to join. There was a tornado drill at St. Cyril’s and I asked the chief if I could participate. He said sure but you have to wear turnout gear. I still have that turnout gear,” she said.
Ever since she joined, she has been working on fire prevention programs which have developed through the years. She has designed a fire prevention curriculum for schools and preschools and serves as co-founder of a summer fire safety camp for kids to be held again this year in August. She chairs the Montour County Fire Prevention Committee.
She has received commendations from Gibson, the Six-County Firemen’s Association and a special congressional recognition for outstanding and invaluable service to the community.
A senior health physics technician at Geisinger Medical Center, she earned commendations for rescuing two children from a house fire in 2002 on Spring Street and for rescuing a woman from a mid-rise fire in 2010 at Beaver Place. “Other people were involved with those rescues,” said Young who said she volunteers “because there’s a need for it. If there weren’t volunteers, we’d be in trouble.”
Young, who has an elementary education degree, said she enjoys helping people and likes teaching fire prevention.
“I enjoy the camaraderie and the feeling of an extended family” in the fire service, Young said.
She has responded to all types of emergencies. The most humorous was when a bird’s head was stuck in the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital sign. Firefighters got a ladder, moved the sign and the bird flew away.
Young has also helped rescue cats from trees.
Gibson said Young is the only woman chief in Montour County and the only female chief he can recall ever being in Montour County and surrounding counties.
Young has been instrumental in establishing East End’s new junior fire program. In 10 years and probably more, she has achieved the No. 1 slot for the firefighter with the most call volume on an annual basis, Gibson said.
A member of the rapid intervention and water rescue teams, Young is also an accomplished illustrator who has provided artwork and fully hand-drawn illustrations for a book about the history of the Molly Maguires and their ties to Montour County history.
The Catawissa native serves on the Geisinger Life Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committees.
In her free time the Penn State, Steelers and Pirates fan hunts and fishes.