Working among heroes Family, public service motivate Lancaster city firefighter BY JENNIFER TODD, Staff Writer
For Lancaster city firefighter Kevin Ressler, going to work is like spending time with family.
Because, for him, his co-workers are family.
His father, Jeff, a member of the city fire bureau since 1983, works at the same station -- Station 3 on East King Street -- but the two are assigned to different platoons and work different schedules.
Brother-in-law Ryan Lehr, who is married to Ressler's sister, Julie, is assigned to not only the same station but the same platoon. They've fought several fires side by side.
"It was kind of inevitable I would end up in the public service field," Ressler said earlier this week, adding that his grandfather was a Lancaster city police officer.
"It was always between the two. Well, I also wanted to be a professional baseball player," he said, smiling.
His father never pushed him to be a firefighter, Ressler said. But being exposed to the profession at a young age helped him realize something.
"Athletes are not heroes. People like my dad -- they're the heroes. They help people, and that's what I knew I wanted to do."
Now 33, Ressler has spent 13 years as a member of the city fire bureau.
In January, he became president of Lancaster Professional Firefighters Association, Local 319, the union that represents city firefighters. The bargaining unit unarguably has had a contentious relationship with city administration in recent years.
Last year, contract negotiations went to arbitration after firefighters and the city butted heads on issues such as staffing levels, wage increases and a 24-hours-on/48-hours-off work schedule.
The two parties also have traded barbs about the alleged harassment of suburban volunteer departments at city fire scenes and the use of lieutenants to run shifts.
Ressler said he's "realistic about the situation we're in," but is hopeful things can turn around.
"No, it hasn't always been the best relationship (between firefighters and the city)," he said. "It seems like the fire bureau is looked at like car insurance -- you want the best, but don't necessarily want to pay for it. But when you need it, you're sure glad you have it."
"But I'd like to think there's an opportunity for change. I'd like to really work on the relationship, open dialogue between the two sides."
Improving communication with the public also is high on his to-do list.
"I know in the past we've been silent on a lot of matters. I think there was a fear to get involved politically," he said. "I think we thought it was better to say nothing, but then I think the perception of us became skewed. There are a lot of misconceptions about our level of greed."
The media, he said, hasn't helped matters.
"It seems like no matter what we do we don't get a fair shake. One day we're being recognized for great work at a fire scene, and the next it's right back to an editorial saying we're asking for too much money," Ressler said.
"But you know what -- we might not get appreciation from the media or the city, but the public has been nothing but supportive. That's the most important thing. They don't care what's written about us -- they care that we're there when they need us."
A lieutenant with the fire bureau, Ressler doesn't hesitate when asked to name the most memorable incident to which he's responded.
"The Zap (& Co.) fire. That was a real intense situation," he said. "We certainly never expected to find someone inside."
Ressler was among the first to enter the North Queen Street building in January 2011, along with Lehr and firefighters Tim Wilk and Jason Greer.
"I went one way and they went the other," he recalled.
Lehr and Wilk found store owner Steve Murray unconscious on the floor and along with Greer dragged him out.
Murray suffered serious burns in the blaze and continues to recover from his injuries. The store was destroyed.
"We really didn't know what we were walking into that night, and those are the situations where you're working as a team, but, at the same time, each person has their own job to do. There's more to it than just putting the fire out."
It's also those situations that create a bond, he said.
"Good or bad, you're in it together, so it's kind of hard not to be like family," he said.
Ressler is a graduate of Lancaster Catholic High School. He lives on Calvert Lane with his girlfriend, Sarah Sponsler.