It's a reach!
Darren Amos of Middleport Fire Company climbs 100 feet into the darkness in downtown Tamaqua late Wednesday as part of aerial training.
Would you climb 100 feet upward into the blackness of a chilly night, your fingers stiff from the cold air?
Late Wednesday, firefighters in training did just that and proved they're made of the right stuff.
Men and women from Middleport, Tamaqua, Nesquehoning, Girardville and other locations gathered in Tamaqua for training in a hair-raising Basic Essentials of Firefighting educational session.
"It's one of four modules," explained Keith Oliphant, Tamaqua, state fire instructor for the past 15 years and a veteran firefighter. "The modules are the History of Fire Service, Fire Ground Support, Exterior Firefighting and Interior Firefighting."
Oliphant conducted the session at host Citizens Fire Company and utilized Tamaqua Borough's ladder truck. A similar session took place at the same firehouse in April. That one, too, was taught by Oliphant, who also serves as Tamaqua's head aerial foreman.
Firefighters were instructed in proper ladder technique and were given the opportunity to climb to the top of the aerial ladder. Nobody was forced to make the trek. All were permitted to venture as high as their comfort level allowed. Surprisingly, virtually every participant - male and female - made it to the top or very near the top rung.
Even through the hydraulic ladder is stable and tested for up to 2,000 pounds capacity, it usually wobbles when a person's weight reaches the top section, an unnerving experience.
Still, the firefighters were up to the challenge.
"I went until my head went over (the top rung)," explained Josh Jacobs of New Columbus Fire Company, Nesquehoning.
Another firefighter who took the long journey upward in the brisk air said she was happy about the achievement.
"It builds up your adrenaline," explained Ashley David of Girardville's Ranger Hose Company.
For some, it was the first time atop an aerial. For others, such as Darren Amos, Middleport Fire Company, it was a refresher course.
Amos first climbed a high ladder about 1985 and was glad to have the opportunity to renew his skills.
Other training, said Oliphant, includes how to carry a 24-ft. ladder and how to "throw" it to achieve the best angle for use, along with how to use leg locks and also how to handle a 40-foot ladder.
The firefighters will continue their training Tuesday night at the Tamaqua Fire Training Ground along the Schuylkill River at the bottom of the Hometown Hill.
What many members of the public don't realize is that countless hours of training and sacrifice are required of volunteers who challenge themselves to learn the various skill sets of firefighting.
Oliphant said fire companies throughout the region continue to struggle with recruiting.
Everybody agrees that there is nothing more noble than protecting lives and property, yet it can be difficult to find individuals willing to step up to the plate.
"It's harder to get younger people involved," said Oliphant.
The ones who do step forward to accept the challenge typically are children or grandchildren of firefighters.
Those individuals, it seems, inherit a family tradition and recognize the value of service to others.