A changing of the guard coming

Apr. 24—GREENSBURG — Thirty of Jill Wilmer's students from St. Mary's pre-school toured Greensburg Fire Department Station 1 Monday.

They watched a short film about fire safety, directed the spray from a real fire hose, sat in the driver's seat of a firefighting tanker truck and toured the station as part of a 30-year-old children's fire safety program that was started by Assistant Fire Chief Brian Wenning.

In 1994, when Wenning's daughter Maddi started pre-school at St. Mary's, he asked then Fire Chief Jerry McGuire if he could create a fire safety program for local schools.

McGuire and the teachers at St. Mary's pre-school saw the value of such a program, so Wenning began a tradition that still lasts. Wenning found he enjoyed teaching kids about smoke detectors, crawling low under smoke and the importance of never playing with matches or lighters.

This year, he got to teach his grandson Graham about fire safety.

Monday marked the last time he will tour Station 1 with the pre-school kids from St. Mary's. In December, after a successful 32-year career as a firefighter, Wenning will retire from the Greensburg Fire Department.

To continue the fire safety program tradition, firefighter John Hammersmith will take on Wenning's duties. Hammersmith loves children, and he's shadowed Wenning in the last few months getting ready to take on the GFD Fire Prevention Program.

When Wenning is asked what part of firefighting he enjoys the most his answer is always the same; he loves going to classrooms, civic groups and senior living facilities to teach fire safety.

But he does become nostalgic as he waits to retire. He's proud of the work the department has done to steadily reduce residential fires and he's very proud of his work with children through the years.

"It kind of feels like a changing of the guard," he said about his approaching retirement.

Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-651-0876 or email bill.rethlake@greensburgdailynews.com.