Forget about the stereotype of the Jewish mother slaving over a hot stove. Stacey Reibach and Allison Choder Friedman have moved from behind the frying pan and straight into the fire.
Reibach and Friedman — Mt. Lebanon mothers of two college students each — have spent the last several weeks suiting up in fire gear and learning the basics of fire fighting, from cutting apart a car with the Jaws of Life to operating a hose line to extinguishing a live fire.
Although Reibach and Friedman have known one another for years, they each independently enrolled in the Citizens Fire Academy located at the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department for a 10-week course to learn what it means to be a firefighter.
The course is a collaboration between three fire departments in the South Hills: Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon and Dormont.
“It’s challenging,” Friedman said of the course that began in early September. “It’s physically demanding, without a doubt, but the challenge is really great.”
The course is offered annually and without charge to residents wishing to enhance their understanding of the fire department’s role in the community, according to the academy’s website. Instructors provide information about the fire department through lectures, facility tours and demonstrations as well as practical evolutions.
“This course has given me so much respect for firefighters,” said Reibach, noting her newfound appreciation of the strenuous physical requirements of the job.
“The volunteer [firefighters] are always working out at the gym on-site,” she said.
In addition to learning the ins and outs of fire safety, academy participants have also learned the essentials of rescue and fire extinguishing.
Two weeks ago, the group of about 16 students — mostly women — had hose training, which proved to be more challenging than it looks.
“We rolled out two hoses,” Friedman said. “One was 2½ inches wide, and 180 gallons of water come out a minute. We had four people holding it. The water comes out with such force. And you can’t let go of that hose.”
Other hands-on training included crawling on the floor in a smoke-filled room to find a “baby” while wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus and climbing aerial ladders donned in full fire suit and boots, which are “super heavy,” Friedman said, adding that they are steel-toed as well as steel-soled.
“It’s a little outside my comfort zone,” said Reibach of the strenuous training exercises she has experienced at the academy. “But I look forward to going.”
While the women will not be trained volunteer firefighters at the conclusion of the course, they are nonetheless getting a realistic grasp of what it means to be a firefighter, Reibach said.
“This is the basic level,” she said.
The academy, however, can serve as a feeder program for volunteer fire-fighter training. Graduates of the academy may choose to enroll in a yearlong volunteer fire-fighting course, which requires 170 hours of additional training, and the completion of several competency tests.
While Reibach has considered continuing with her training following her graduation from the academy, she has decided against it for now because of time constraints due to her job as a constituent services representative for state Sen. Matt Smith.
“It’s such an investment for the city if you do the training,” she said. “The city has to buy $10,000 in gear for you that can’t be re-used.”
Friedman said she was unsure whether she would continue training because of the heavy time commitment.
But for now, both women are learning a lot, while having a lot of fun.
“The most fun was cutting up cars,” Reibach said. “We used these massive hydraulic tools that spread metal. The doors were hanging on by a thread. Then we cut the roof and almost rolled it like a sardine can.
“I did this for fun, but came out with a great appreciation for the dangers that firefighters put themselves in,” she continued, “and the strength necessary to do the job.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.