Firefighting: a family affair
Residents of the Town of Lumberland and surrounding region can rest more soundly now that six young men from the area have completed the demanding Sullivan County Fire Training Center Firefighter One course and will shore up the ranks of their town’s firefighting team.
The six are part of a larger group of 14 men who made it through. Seven others did not.
The graduation came at a fitting time, following a month during which the Lumberland Fire Department responded to 61 emergency calls.
In a tragic turn of events, just before the ceremony was to get underway, local crews were called to Mohican Lake, where 21-year-old James Chung of Floral Park, NY had climbed out of a boat without a lifejacket and attempted to swim to a nearby dock but was overcome.
The Lumberland Fire Department hosted the graduation at its firehouse, where families of the men gathered for the ceremony led by state fire instructor Lenny Adams. Adams described the grueling physical and mental demands of the 89-hour program and thanked family members for supporting the firefighters.
“Every class starts with a line of duty death report,” Adams told the attentive crowd, who learned that 87 firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty last year and 59 have died so far in 2011. “We do this so we can learn how to keep improving our firefighting skills.” Adams then read the report for the most recent firefighting victim, Jeff Cocke of Alta Vista, VA and asked for a moment of silence in Cocke’s honor.
Joseph Mellan, supervising deputy fire coordinator, also spoke. “You’ve achieved a milestone, but you need to keep training all the time,” he advised the men. “Remember that you don’t know everything. Whether you get a paycheck or you’re a volunteer, the fire doesn’t know the difference.”
Five of Lumberland’s six graduates are following parental models, according to Ann Steimle, Emergency Medical Services Captain and president of the Lumberland Fire Department. Steimle’s four sons are now interior firefighters; two are also Emergency Medical Technicians. Lumberland firefighter Ron Thiele has been joined by his sons, R.J. and Dillon. The Fliegers family can boast four generations of Lumberland firefighters now that David has graduated.
The sixth Lumberland graduate is Mike Fullone.
What does it mean to Steimle to see all of her children follow her lead? “I have watched my sons grow both as individuals and together by being part of our fire and EMS service,” she said. “To be able, as a mother, to be part of something that has become a cornerstone of their adult lives fills me with an intense pride that burns hotter than any fire.”