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Meet Sarah Kollat: Penn State Professor, Author and Volunteer Firefighter

firefighter sarah kollat sits in front of an Alpha Fire Company truck

Have you ever met an active professor, published author or a volunteer firefighter? Sure, maybe you’ve met each of these individually. But if you put all three together, you have Sarah Kollat.

Not only does Kollat teach developmental psychology full-time at Penn State, but the 41-year-old has also written five published novels and can confidently put out a house fire with the rest of her squad.

Kollat grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and never imagined that she would become a firefighter. Now, with State College’s Alpha Fire Company, she’s a part of one of the largest volunteer fire departments in Pennsylvania.

“Firefighting was not anything on my radar at all,” Kollat said with a laugh. “It was not anything I ever thought I could do.”

Courtesy of Sarah Kollat

Kollat’s high school sweetheart, Joshua, joined Alpha Fire Company before the pandemic, which gave her the idea and motivated her to join. The adventurous couple spends their days training and going on calls together, and Kollat believes it makes them stronger.

“To be working together in such dangerous circumstances — it’s just this total level of trust,” Kollat said. “I know I can count on him to be my teammate.”

Kollat is currently engine and rescue-qualified, leaving only truck certification to go. Once she completes truck training, she’ll be considered a “master firefighter,” the highest tier in the department.

Courtesy of Sarah Kollat

For Gregory Guise, a former journalist and current photographer for Alpha Fire Company, Kollat’s dedication is what stands out above all.

“What I’m really impressed by is the amount of time that people from all walks of life contribute to keep our department well-staffed,” Guise said.

During the summertime, Kollat finds herself writing at the station to feed her creative side. Her most recent novel, “The Good Life,” is a 279-paged psychological thriller.

“I just figured I enjoy writing, and I found a publisher that was willing to publish [the novels],” Kollat said.  

Despite all of this, Kollat said she doesn’t feel too busy. She and her husband still find a way to make it to bed by 9:30 p.m., which is a pretty impressive feat.

The couple has three kids: Ethan (22), Katherine (20), and Eli (18). Although they act nonchalant to Kollat’s face, she believes they secretly brag about their firefighting parents to friends. If they do, could you really blame them?

Courtesy of Sarah Kollat

Alpha Fire Company has 106 active members with a little over 20% comprised of student volunteers. While the group is male-dominated, Kollat still feels she couldn’t be more at home. 

“I’ve never encountered more equity, gender-wise, than I have at Alpha,” Kollat said. “They don’t care if you’re a man or woman or whatever your gender is. They just want you to do the work and be a safe firefighter.”

Kollat works hard each day to make her lieutenants and colleagues proud. Recent Penn State graduate Jarod Depp is a master firefighter at the department and became close with Kollat when she joined as a probationary member. Her never-give-up attitude has caught Depp’s attention since the two met.

“She has never let [being female] get in her way, and she’s always been somebody who is going to give 120% until it’s just physically not possible for her to do it,” Depp said.

Courtesy of Sarah Kollat

Kollat explained that her love for learning describes who she is and makes her a dedicated professor and firefighter. 

“[I am] always learning as a teacher, and there’s always more to learn as a firefighter,” she said. “That’s how they relate.” 

She loves all of her hobbies, whether she’s in her gear, lecturing her students or writing her newest thriller. However, working with Alpha holds a special place in her heart. 

“If you ask any firefighter what they want to do [on their ideal day], they want to fight fires,” Kollat said. “It feels good when you put in a hard day’s work and you are able to make a difference.”