FIRST RESPONDER PROFILE
When it came time for Joe Sherman, fire chief of the Vera Cruz Fire Department, or, more officially, Citizens’ Fire Company of Upper Milford Township, to announce the name of the department’s firefighter of the year at the department’s 75th anniversary recognition banquet Aug. 19, it was no surprise it was a female firefighter that stepped forward.
Emily Fair had gathered years of service with the fire department, but this spring she became the first female in the fire department’s history to complete the Bucks County Community College Firefighter One fire training course.
The 192-hour course, held January to May, is held in Lehigh County annually for area volunteers so they do not have to travel to Bucks County Fire Academy in Doylestown. The course provides volunteer firefighter certification recognized throughout the country.
Fair had been involved with the Vera Cruz fire and rescue company since being encouraged by the fire department’s assistant chief, Jason Tapler, to “come out and see what we’re all about.”
Fair liked the “family” atmosphere and became involved with the department’s auxiliary, serving as its president.
As she learned more about what was involved in being a firefighter, she decided, “I could do this,” and applied to become an active member of the crew in 2014.
After taking a vehicle rescue training module, she found an opening in the Bucks County firefighter training for the 2017 candidate class. The course extends over five months with both classroom and “hands-on” technical training with a least two multi-hour sessions each week.
Allentown Fire Department Lt. Chris Groller, lead course instructor for the course, recalls Fair as an “outstanding” candidate.
“The Firefighter One training is not for the faint of heart,” Groller said. “It provides serious training for those who can complete its requirements,” he said. “Emily was a ‘quiet leader’ throughout. She did what was asked of her, never questioning what was required to become a competent volunteer firefighter. She was a real asset to this year’s candidate class.”
Fair says a lot of her ability can be ascribed to training she acquired in the 4-H organization, in which she participated in her formative years. “That’s where my determination comes from,” she said. Having worked with farm animals, Fair said she never had a fear of “getting my hands dirty.”
Since completing the FF1 course, Fair has gone on to an advanced hazardous-materials training module. She describes that training as challenging because “everything changes so fast in the hazards we face. Just when you think you have a handle on the hazards, something else comes along to make you rethink what you are facing.”
Fair says she has no “end-point” in the first responder training she undertakes. “I just want to go as far as I can.”
One of Fair’s most memorable calls was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast extension, a portion of which is a Vera Cruz fire/rescue response area. “I recall seeing a column of thick, black smoke even before getting to the area, and thinking, ‘Somebody is having a really bad day.’”
When the unit she was with got on scene she recalls it being even worse than anticipated. “The tracker-trailer involved was ‘fully-involved,’” firefighter parlance for “fire everywhere.” The fire had spread along the roadside and responders had to cope with a brush fire as well as the vehicle fire.
In instances like this, Vera Cruz is known as a “good ole’ tanker company,” and is one of the few rural fire departments in Lehigh County which has two tankers in its fleet. Only about one percent of the department’s fire district has a municipal water supply.
Like most volunteer first responder organizations, Vera Cruz is always looking for people to join its ranks. Fair says she never regrets taking the step to become an active firefighter.
“I was accepted from the beginning, and there is always someone with more experience willing to pitch in with helpful advice. If more people would just take the time to come out see what we are about, the fire service would probably seem less intimidating.”
What she says is most encouraging about being on the roster is that “Vera Cruz Fire Department prides itself as the place where friends become family.”