If you ever wondered who’s behind the Santa suit at the Barren Hill Volunteer Fire Company, the secret is out. It’s Chris Schwartz, a Montgomery County police officer who also serves as volunteer chief of the fire department. Schwartz’s community spirit and willingness to serve go far beyond the holidays.
Barren Hill Fire Company has a hidden gem in Schwartz, whose passion for emergency services makes him demand excellence in fire safety for his community. Schwartz joined the volunteer fire company when he was just 17 years old.
“Barren Hill is like a family to me. I do it as a hobby but I also do it because it’s fulfilling,” Schwartz said, adding that the intensity of the job is what brings the volunteer firefighters together in a brotherhood. “Once you sign up to be a firefighter it is your obligation to the community to respond when you get the call…of course you don’t have to go, but the community’s dependence on my service drives me to be there.”
As Chief, Schwartz directs the firefighters and oversees the company’s administration. He recently arranged for the company to obtain a new engine and facilitates the monthly trainings for the Colonial Regional Technical Rescue Task Force, a group of Montgomery County emergency personnel who are dispatched for extreme rescues.
“We plan for all situations. The group practices propelling off of buildings, working in confined spaces, water rescues at the Schuylkill River… these guys are really the best of the best,” Schwartz said.
Barren Hill Volunteer Fire Company vice-president, Renard Rose, said that those who work with Schwartz are top notch because of his high expectations. “Chris looks out for everyone’s best interest including those of Barren Hill. He makes sure that on the job, you’re doing your homework.”
Not only does Schwartz command the respect of his co-workers, his infectious personality draws people to him.
“Chris is the kind of person that people gravitate towards. He’s a natural born leader with an outgoing personality,” said longtime friend, Steve Marino.
One person who had a particularly special relationship with Schwartz was the late Jack Christmas who served alongside him in the fire department for many years. When Christmas died of brain cancer, Schwartz wanted to preserve his memory and help raise money to fight disease. In memory of his friend Schwartz helped establish the Lucky Dog Golf Outing with Steve Marino, owner of the Lucky Dog Saloon and Grille and promotes the Emergency Services Cup golf.
Proceeds from the annual events benefit cancer research organizations like Fox Chase Cancer Center and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Schwartz also co-founded and serves on the board of The Rachel and Troy Foundation, an organization named for Schwartz’s childhood friend, Rachel Engle. The foundation aids women and children who are victims of abuse.
Barren Hill Volunteer Fire Company trustee John Lynch said the he is in awe of how much Schwartz does for the community. “When you’re chief and do the job like he does you spend an incredible amount of your personal time.”
When Schwartz isn’t on the job as a police officer, you can find him teaching local kids about fire safety, helping install fire detectors for seniors or arranging emergency rescue trainings. If you’re lucky, you might even find him giving out candy canes from the top of a fire truck – all in a day’s work.