Fifth generation firefighter

By on January 24, 2018

Riley Ober is proud to serve Manheim as a junior firefighter. When the 14-year-old became a member in August 2017, he also became the fifth generation of his family to serve the community as a volunteer firefighter.

“I’ve always been excited about the idea of being a firefighter and wanted to volunteer as soon as I could,” he said. An eighth grade student at Manheim Central Middle School, he is one of five junior fighters at the department.

“Riley grew up hearing about firefighting and spending time here. In a sense he grew up at the fire station,” said his dad, Duane Ober, a member of the Manheim Fire Department since 1988, who served for four years a fire chief and 15-years as assistant chief. His brothers, Doug and Brian, are also firefighters with Manheim — both with over 25 years of service — and Doug’s wife, Chelsea, just joined the department.

The family’s connection to Manheim firefighting dates to the 1920s or 30s, when Oscar Horst became a Manheim firefighter.

“He was my great-grandfather, and the first firefighter in the family that we’re aware of,” Duane Ober said.

His maternal grandfather, Elwood Hammer, served as chief for a number of years — 1941, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1958 and 1959. He retired as a firefighter in the mid-1960s. Duane’s dad (and Riley’s grandfather), Dennis Ober started as a volunteer firefighter for Lititz in the 1960s when the family lived there. When the family moved to Manheim in the 1970s, he became a volunteer for Manheim.

“We really are a family here, and that’s not just because there are a lot of my family members serving here. There’s a real camaraderie among firefighters. Our chief, Dan Wagner, has two sons in the junior firefighter program with Riley,” Duane Ober said.

He explained that the junior firefighter program is for volunteers ages 14 to 17.

“It’s a great way to train the next generation of volunteers. When I was a junior (firefighter) there were eight of us,” he said. “Anyone under the age of 18 has to be supervised, and even though we’re volunteers, the program follows Child Labor Laws.”

As a junior firefighter, Riley attends the weekly training sessions-learning about safety, equipment and hand tools. He is allowed to ride along on a fire truck to a fire scene. However, that opportunity can be limited. Ober explained that junior firefighters are the last ones to be allowed on the fire truck. “Riley is familiar with fire scenes. He would sometimes ride in the chief’s vehicle with me when I was chief and watch what went on,” he said.

As a junior firefighter, if Riley is at a scene, he and other junior firefighters can help with the cleanup once the fire is under control.

“Part of their learning experience is from watching. They can’t be ‘in harm’s way’, so once the scene is safe, we’ll get the junior firefighters involved,” Duane Ober stressed.

Even though Riley had been around fire trucks since he was little, riding in one to his first fire as a junior firefighter was memorable.

“It was a brush fire. I was nervous the first time, but I realized how important the training is, and how important it is to be there to help people,” he said.

During his first year as a junior firefighter (August through Dec. 31, 2017), he made 16 percent of the calls he was eligible to be on, or 21 of 129 calls. In addition to serving as a volunteer firefighter, he also plays baseball with the Manheim Lions Club program and is involved at the Elstonville Sportsman’s Association as well as church youth programs. “Riley’s schedule is nearly as busy as mine,” his dad said with a smile.

Since the family lives on North Charlotte Street, a few blocks away from the fire station, Riley sometimes rides his bike to get to the fire station at 83 S. Main St. to respond to a call if his dad isn’t at home. His path to the fire station crosses heavily traveled areas such as Market Square and Main Street (Route 72).

“You have to have a positive attitude (about being a junior firefighter),” Riley said. “It’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed learning and helping people. The other volunteers are always very supportive.”

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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