Centre County’s Bravest

HDFS professor Sarah Kollat is a volunteer firefighter.

photo of Kollat in firefighter gear wielding a fire hose, courtesy


Sarah Kollat didn’t think she had the physical or emotional wherewithal to become a firefighter. The human development and family studies professor was inspired by her husband, Josh, a volunteer for the past four years, to join Alpha Fire Company, which provides fire and rescue services to Penn State, the State College Borough, and surrounding townships. Once she started training in January 2021, she’s never looked back. Alpha, says Kollat ’04 MS, ’07 PhD Lib, prepares its volunteers so thoroughly that in July 2021, when she was sent to her first fire, she felt confident enough to do the job.

“I was scared, but everyone sitting next to you has gone through the same rigorous training, so you know you can trust your fellow firefighters,” says Kollat. “Four of us were on the engine—my husband was across from me, and the whole ride I was checking my straps and my gear. My adrenaline was pumping, and I knew when I got out of the engine, I would just go because I had my training to fall back on.”

Kollat is trained to work on a fire engine, which entails maneuvering the hose, making sure it’s laid out properly, and connecting the engine to a hydrant. She is also trained to rescue people from fires, car accidents, and other emergencies. Alpha trains its volunteers both in the classroom and in a special “burn building,” located at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology in nearby Pleasant Gap.

“It’s a whole structure developed to be a safe place for live burn trainings,” Kollat says. “There are special escape doors, mazes, small spaces you have to crawl through. And there are always lots of supervising firefighters inside.”

With firefighting, she says, “there’s always something new to learn, always a new skill to develop.” Kollat and her husband are so committed to firefighting that they have structured their schedules around it. On Fridays, their remote day, they work from the fire station. They go to sleep with their pagers on. They even back their car into their driveway, she says, “so if we have to respond to a call, we can pull out quickly.”