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Grant to fund Spanish training for public workers

May 26, 2009

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Greater Chambersburg Chamber Foundation has received a $7,440 grant to provide workplace Spanish training to public employees so they can better serve the Spanish-speaking community in Franklin County.

Nearly 100 employees, including emergency responders and public safety officers who work for the Borough of Chambersburg and Franklin County, may receive the training before next April, according to a foundation news release.

The Summit Endowment - Investing in Tomorrow's Community Health - awarded the grant in recognition of a need in the community. Terri Kochert, a retired Spanish instructor from Chambersburg Area School District, will be the teacher.

Teaching Spanish skills to English-speaking emergency responders and other public employees "is critical to fulfilling their job duties and ensures that public safety, health and other service delivery systems are not interrupted due to language barriers," said Noel Purdy, executive director of the Foundation.

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"There is interest from the Hispanic community and public employees to see this training delivered," she said.

David J. Arnold, chief of the Chambersburg Police Department, and Terrence Osborne, emergency services chief for the Borough of Chambersburg, wrote letters in support of the grant application, and John Aquirre of Franklin County government also provided supporting information, the release states.

In his letter, Osborne referred to a 2008 incident: The first firefighters on the scene had difficulty communicating with a Hispanic family and weren't assured initially that all of the family members were out of the burning home. "As we began our investigation of the cause of the fire, we again had problems communicating with the residents as to possible causes of the fire," Osborne wrote, according to the release.

"Our dilemma that night brought to my attention a difficulty that is encountered by many emergency response personnel throughout our state and country. It is my belief that the Command Spanish training may enable us to avert a possibly disastrous situation on the scene of a fire. I truly believe that this training could be one of the most important tools that we can acquire," Osborne wrote.

The training also would help firefighters who teach fire-prevention techniques, he said.

The Pew Hispanic Center reports that the Hispanic population in Franklin County, estimated at about 4,200, grew 86 percent between 2000 and 2007. The population of Franklin County is about 143,500.

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