Praise offered for tired firefighters
Kulpmont deputy fire chief Jeff Gilotti was awake for more than 20 hours Monday into Tuesday, and estimates he was at a fire scene for 17 of them.
"I'm a sore older guy today," Gilotti joked Tuesday morning.
Such is the feeling for many local firefighters, who started their day by responding to a fire that destroyed two double homes in Kulpmont at 4:55 a.m. Monday, were called to a fire that gutted a Coal Township home at 7:25 p.m., then topped off their busy day with what turned out to be an arson fire at an apartment building and a neighboring single home at 10:36 p.m. in Shamokin.
There was little time to rest in between. In fact, Coal Township Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Malukas, asked how long his firefighters were cleared between the second and third fires, said, "We weren't."
The fatigue of local volunteer firefighters was among the topics of discussions Tuesday, many people expressing their appreciation for their long hours and sacrifices.
The danger of fatigue
Some firefighters who responded to the Shamokin fire, along Sunbury Street (Route 61), had been up since the Kulpmont call.
"I want to thank all the firefighters who responded Monday evening," Shamokin Deputy Fire Chief Jason Zimmerman said Tuesday. "Many of the companies who responded to the Shamokin fire battled two other fires the same day. Everyone did an outstanding job."
The work never ends, Gilotti said, even after the flames are extinguished.
"After fighting the fire in (Kulpmont), we didn't have the time to clean and pack up our hoses on the truck" because of the other calls, Gilotti said. "That will be our work today (Tuesday), getting our tools ready to get back on the truck."
Zimmerman said fatigue is a factor.
"When you come on scene, the adrenaline of the call is going for the first 15 or 20 minutes," he said. "After that, you start to get a little tired."
A tired firefighter runs the risk of not only injuring himself, but also posing a risk to others, so the chiefs watch closely and call for as much help as they need.
"You try to rotate guys as much as you can. When people arrive, you rotate fresh guys in and encourage those being called off to get their rest," Gilotti said.
Firefighters from Kulpmont returned the mutual aid favor to Shamokin Monday night, and Zimmerman took their long day into consideration.
"Kulpmont and Coal Township were coming from their own incidents earlier in the day and we tried to get them relieved and out very early on," Zimmerman said. "If we needed them, we gave them very easy tasks to perform.
"AREA Services provided some water while we also had coffee and donuts for those that wanted them," he continued. The special response unit for rehab from Sunbury was also on scene.
Zimmerman said it was helpful that the city fire was fought from outside the structures because they were vacant. In that case, "we don't have to overexert ourselves," he said.
166 hours of training
On average, those who want to be firefighters will spend 166 hours of training to earn the right to respond to calls.
Firefighters must also balance volunteer duty with work and family lives.
"We had many firefighters come in bad weather and call off sick from work, using their own personal time to stay with us until we got things under control," Kulpmont Fire Chief Ray Siko II said Monday.
"Most of the staff have cooperative employers, like mine," Gilotti said. "I started at 7:30 a.m. (Tuesday) and have a job that allows me some flexibility in my schedule. The younger guys were probably back at work at 8 a.m. with no problems."
Gilotti, who was up from 4:55 a.m. Monday until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, went to bed only after showering for the third time in a day to get rid of the smoky stench. After work Tuesday, he was back at the station, getting ready for the next call.
Siko, who is also a Shamokin police patrolman, said firefighters are instrumental in investigations, too, such as those taking place in association with Monday night's fire in Shamokin and those in the same neighborhood last week and last year.
"They have been a huge asset to us, and they've always been," he said Tuesday. "These ladies and gentlemen miss work because of fires, they're up all night."
He said he'll show up to conduct an investigation, "and five, 10, 15 people will stay throughout my investigation and help in any way they can; I can't thank them enough."
Such devotion is common, said Coal Township Fire Chief Russ Feese.
"That's the dedication to the service they have as volunteers," he said.