It’s a family affair for the Wendling family.
Frank Wendling Jr. and his two sons Frank Wendling III and Max Wendling graduated together from the Somerset County Fire Academy on Jan. 27.
The sons decided to join Montgomery Fire Company No. 1 after Montgomery firefighters rescued Frank III’s girlfriend Julia from her car after it was swept away in the raging waters of Hurricane Ida in 2021.
“After we heard that Julia had been saved, my two sons responded that they would be joining the fire department the next day,” said Frank Jr. “They followed through, and after some serious soul searching, thinking I was too old, and talking to every fireman that I know, I also decided to give it a try.”
The Wendling men shared their story through a press release from Somerset County. They are part of 38 new firefighters added to 24 fire departments across Central Jersey that protect the public during home fires, floods, and other life-threatening situations.
Somerset County held its first graduation since the pandemic in 2020 with members of the summer and fall 2022 First Year Firefighter class of the Somerset County Fire Academy. It was a celebration not just of the accomplishments of the graduates, but of the gift of safety and hope firefighters and other first responders give the public every day.
“It is no small thing to commit to enter a burning building, to carry dozens of pounds of gear on your back into unfamiliar spaces, to be ready to save someone else’s life at a moment’s notice,” Somerset County Commissioner Deputy Director Doug Singleterry said at the celebration. “You give us all the faith that our homes and loved ones are protected at all times, and that when disaster strikes there are highly skilled, highly trained, highly motivated neighbors ready to come give us the help – and hope – we need to recover.”
Another family story involves Zachary Menendez of Bridgewater, a graduate from the fire academy’s fall 2022 class. He will be joining the Green Knoll Fire Department as a volunteer. Menendez is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Bob Skillman, who served 55 years as a firefighter including as chief of the Laurelton Fire Department in Ocean County.
“For all the guys who don’t know what they want to do or want to try something new, really get into volunteer firefighting. You might just find that this is something you want to spend your life doing,” Menendez said.
Founded in 1991, the Fire Academy is part of Somerset County’s Emergency Services Training Academy in Hillsborough as part of the Office of Emergency Management. The Academy is tasked with providing educational training and certification for fire, EMS (Emergency Medical Services), CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), Law Enforcement, Emergency Management, search and rescue, amateur radio testing, hazardous materials handling, and other public safety personnel in Somerset County and throughout the state.
“This is an exciting day. This is our first live graduation of the Somerset County Fire Academy since before COVID, so a nice round of applause for a little return to normal,” said Somerset County Office of Emergency Management Director Lisa Werner, who oversees the Emergency Services Training Academy. “I am so proud to be here to be a part of these firefighters’ training, and to ensure that this academy is here to serve the people of Somerset County for many generations to come.”
The Somerset County Emergency Services Training Academy has dozens of classes for aspiring and experienced firefighters, EMTs, CERT members and other first responders schedule throughout the spring and summer of 2023.
To learn more, visit https://www.co.somerset.nj.us/government/public-health-safety/emergency-services-training-academy/training-courses, call 908-725-5070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.