Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Firehouse

Recently, I completed drills with the men of Munhall Volunteer Fire Co. No. 4. By "completed," I mean participated. By "participated," I mean I was there.



Illustration by Patrick Neil

"Virginia, you’re up."

Standing in full firefighting gear on a day when the temperature in Pittsburgh reached 93 degrees, I blinked a drop of sweat out of my eyes and glanced over at the men of Munhall Volunteer Fire Co. No. 4, who were preparing to cut a square section out of the roof of an old car that now rested on its side.

I reluctantly approached the beat-up Toyota and reached for the drill-like tool. I listened as I was instructed on how to use the special bit to cut a line along the car’s roof—a line that, once connected to others, would allow the firemen to peel the roof away to retrieve our “victim.”

“Are you sure? I’m not very good with tools,” I said.

After receiving an unreadable look from the fire chief, I powered up the tool and cut along the white line that had been drawn to guide my path—one, I hoped, that wouldn’t intersect with a tender human head.

Later, I stood with every stitch of clothing drenched so thoroughly with sweat that I felt as if I had put them on right out of the washer. Hip to hip with another firefighter, grasping the incredibly heavy Jaws of Life, I used all of my body weight to shove the loud machine farther into the door hinge and pop it open. With my eyes and muscles burning, my ears ringing, and my body wondering if it had gone to hell, a thought entered my head: When do we slide down the pole?
You see, when I was approached by the station to participate in “drills,” I thought, OK, this will be fun. Put on a cute hat. Make a cute face. Slide down a pole. Possibly land in a heap on my rump. Maybe adorably affect a Bridget Jones accent. Stand on the fire truck and shout, ‘Woo-wee! Woo-wee!’ Hold the big hose and pretend I’m spraying water. Pet the spotted dog. I’m in.

I don’t know at what point all of that turned into my body entering its own self-contained furnace, but I didn’t make one cute little face during those three grueling hours, and any thought of appearing adorable disappeared when the last drop of my makeup melted off my face like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

“Drills” meant climbing into a 30-pound firefighting suit and a helmet so heavy that if I accidentally tilted my head down even the slightest notch, the weight of it would snap my neck down like a broken bobblehead. It meant joining the men on the fire truck and shuttling out to a field where the beat-up car waited to be taken apart completely.
“Drills” turned into one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.

I was perhaps the most shocked when I met the chief of five years, and he turned out to be a tall, strapping 28-year-old who commanded respect and oozed authority. One look from him, and I felt as though the principal was thinking about giving me detention—not that he was rude or even abrasive. There’s just something about knowing he’s in charge that makes you spit out your gum and shut up and listen.

I listened as the chief turned into a teacher, asking the men what they would do first if they were to approach a car in the position of the one they were currently viewing. I listened as the men answered, and then, as they turned into teachers, they began to eagerly instruct me on how to stabilize a wrecked vehicle.

I marveled at how I seemed to be sweating more than any of them were and that not a one complained about the heat, even though you could cook a chicken in the pants I was wearing. I wouldn’t do this job for $1 million, and here they all were, standing in the heat for hours, learning all of the ways to remove victims from wrecked cars and timing themselves as they attempted to remove a car door in under two minutes. And they do it for free.

It was about 10 o’clock at night when I was watching the men clean up, and I thought to myself that being this hot, this sweaty, this miserable—well, it makes me want to be as far away as possible from any heat source.

I wouldn’t even make toast wearing this suit, but these men will walk into a fire on the hottest day of the year if that’s what they’re asked to do, and they won’t be paid a dime to do it.

That’s when I realized I had just spent three hours with a group of true local heroes and that there are many like them all over southwestern Pennsylvania.

Would I do it again? Not on your life.

But if you live in Munhall, your life is in really good hands.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Cure in Upper Lawrenceville Is Closing

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino's restaurant garnered significant national and local praise during its seven-year run.

Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

As a franchise QB with Hall-of-Fame credentials and as the only player in the locker room that’s actually won a Super Bowl in a Steelers’ uniform, Roethlisberger is perfectly positioned, Colbert insists, to run the show.

Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

The plant-based meat alternative from Impossible Foods is a significant improvement on its initial offering.

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

The 400-Word Review: Paddleton

The Ray Romano/Mark Duplass dramedy is heartbreaking, but absolutely worth watching.

Perspectives: ‘He Wants to Talk to Ms. Betty’

An encounter at a healing garden in Larimer leads the writer to reflect on his own connection to others.

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Manager Emerson Graham's detailed approach to crafting a beverage makes for a tasty experience.

Watch: The First Episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

The landmark childrens television series was first broadcast 51 years ago this week.

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Skip the Gift at this Wedding at the Carnegie Museum of Art

In a romantic twist on its Third Thursday events, the Carnegie Museum of Art is throwing a wedding this week, and everyone in Pittsburgh is invited.

See What Piece of Pittsburgh is Going to the Moon

Of all of the items proposed, this one earned the most votes.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Comments

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Cure in Upper Lawrenceville Is Closing

Cure in Upper Lawrenceville Is Closing

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino's restaurant garnered significant national and local praise during its seven-year run.

Comments

Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

Impossible Burger 2.0 Comes to Pittsburgh

The plant-based meat alternative from Impossible Foods is a significant improvement on its initial offering.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Comments

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments


Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

Comments

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Reflections upon encountering Autumn, a four-year-old golden eagle now residing at the National Aviary.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

Steelers' GM Kevin Colbert Clears the Air on Big Ben

As a franchise QB with Hall-of-Fame credentials and as the only player in the locker room that’s actually won a Super Bowl in a Steelers’ uniform, Roethlisberger is perfectly positioned, Colbert insists, to run the show.

Comments

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Given what he’s capable of, and what we’ve too often seen instead, Evgeni Malkin has been the Pens’ most under-achieving player.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

Sometimes, the future love of your life is just around the corner, whether you know it or not.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Part of a three-phase plan, the 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses range in price from the mid-$600,000s up to $1 million.

Comments

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Savannah Hayes adds six new wallpaper designs to her line of throw blankets, accessories and tea towels.

Comments