Firefighters: Human hearts beat behind shields of courage

We think of firefighters as being pretty heroic people. Our image of them is of strength and courage, of compassion and caring. They are the ones who run into burning buildings to rescue us, or extricate us from cars after motor vehicle accidents; they are role models for our children.

But sometimes we forget to look past that heroic facade and see the human beings, the hearts that bleed for the people they may be too late to help.

That was the case recently in the eastern end of Lycoming County when volunteeer firefighters were summoned to a horrific accident at the Economy Locker Storage Co. in Pennsdale.

It was conceivably one of the most gruesome scenes that any emergency responder would ever come upon; it shakes us to the bone to think of the way the young woman involved, Jill Greninger, died, and our hearts are heavy for her family.

News reports tell us that she fell into a piece of industrial equipment. Removing her body was the mission charged to the firefighters who responded that day. They could not turn their backs on her.

“It was one of the worst incidents, to be involved in removing a person. Those guys had a tough time of it,” Muncy Township fire Chief Scott Oldweiler recently told the township supervisors.

Nonetheless, there was no shortage of willingness to do the right thing for this young woman and her family. They stepped up to the plate.

What was lacking was sufficient emotional support for these volunteers as they faced the task of disassembling the machine to remove her body.

It highlights a lack of awareness about the need to formally request support services through Seven Mountains/Susquehanna Critical Incident Stress Management, a cooperative regional effort to mobilize trained volunteers to provide the much needed emotional support during incidents such as the one in Pennsdale.

“We need to bring this back up to the front burner,” John Yingling, director of the county Department of Public Safety, said after Oldweiler took his concern to the supervisors.

We hope Yingling’s successful in spreading the word and making others aware before this type of service is needed again.

Meanwhile, we tip our hats to the firefighters involved, as well as firefighters everywhere. The majority of them are volunteers, who dedicate their free time to serving their neighbors and who do not hesitate when the call comes in. Their ranks continue to dwindle, yet they are so needed.

Imagine a world without them. Who else would step up?