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South Brownsville firefighters ready to take Polar Plunge

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 6:21 p.m.

Members of the South Brownsville Fire Company No. 1 are no strangers to community events. From their annual fish fry to Wednesday night bingo, the 27 volunteer firefighters are always looking for different ways to bring people together.

Capt. Ron Barry, 44, of Brownsville found inspiration in neighboring communities, specifically those which hold one particular event on New Year's Day. Barry's company plans to host its first Polar Plunge at noon Feb. 1 at the Brownsville Wharf River Park.

“Connellsville and other communities organize plunges on the first of each year. It's a fun thing to do. It's a daring thing to do. Those who have done it say it's liberating,” Barry said. “New Year's Day is a chance to wash everything away and start all over again, but we're pushing ours back by one month to make it stand out.”

Barry and his crew will join 15 to 20 other fire companies from neighboring counties at the Polar Plunge. Each department will have at least one representative jump into the Monongahela River, regardless of weather conditions, to earn money from sponsors for their own individual fire departments. Pledges are currently being accepted to sponsor plungers.

“Other groups who do this show such solidarity, and I always thought, why can't we do that?” Barry said. “Basically, the community pledges money to the individual they'd like to sponsor; and if he or she jumps, they pay up.”

The event is open to the public and has no official sponsorship. Anyone can jump, sponsor a jumper or simply show up for moral support.

“As a volunteer department, we have to raise our own money for everything we need, and it costs a lot to keep the doors open. With the way the economy is, folks can't give as much as they used to,” Barry said. “When it's hard on them, it's hard on us, so we come up with ways to bring everyone together to support our cause.”

Vice President Ross Swords Jr. of the neighboring Brownsville Fire Company No. 1 is bringing his crew out in full force for the event.

“Ron came to me and asked if we'd be interested in doing something positive for the community. We're always looking for unique ways to draw attention to Brownsville and raise funds,” said Swords, 29, of Brownsville. “We want to help make this event a success, and I think it's a great idea.”

Swords, who serves as a councilman in Brownsville, plans to take the plunge with his 10-year-old son.

“If it's nasty weather, we're still going to do it. As long as the river isn't frozen solid, we're jumping,” Swords said. “The colder, the better, because it will get the community more involved.

All departments ask that anyone who has any medical issues that may prevent them from safely completing the plunge not participate. However, they encourage everyone to come show their support.

“We will have everyone sign release forms ahead of time, and the majority of us are trained medical professionals,” said Barry. “We don't recommend anyone stay in the water longer than 30 seconds, because we want this to be a safe and fun event.”

Hot dogs, hot chocolate, and coffee will be available for purchase, courtesy of the junior firefighters from the South Brownsville Fire Company No. 1. All proceeds will benefit their department.

As for the future of the event, both Barry and Swords believe that will depend on the success of their first effort. With the right amount of support, they will consider expanding the event to include other activities and entertainment.

“There may be some friendly competition between fire departments, but we're all doing this for the same cause,” Barry said. “Some may be skeptical now, but after everyone sees how great this year is, I'm confident it's going to take off. We just hope everyone will come to cheer the jumpers on.”

Participants should arrive at 11:30 a.m. and bring their own towels and extra clothing. Those wishing to sponsor a jumper can contact Ron Barry at ron6l1@yahoo.com for a pledge form.

“This Polar Plunge will be unlike any other, because you have your first responders out there representing the community,” Swords said. “All your firefighters put their lives at stake each day and ask for little more than acknowledgment in return. It's not about raising the money. It's about recognition for what we do, and I'm doing it for fun.”

For more information, contact Ron Barry or visit the event's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1442997065915673/

Kaylie Harper is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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