Emergency responders prepare for 'polar plunge' to benefit Special Olympics
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jumping into the freezing water for the first time can be a bit intimidating, they said.
There's the thought of “Am I going to be OK?” “Am I going to drown?”
That's the easy jump. Friends are there for support on the sidelines — some wear tutus, others go in footed pajamas.
Jumps two through 26 were much harder.
“After the first jump, you think, ‘I don't know if I can do this for 24 hours,'” Baldwin Borough police Officer Tim Kreger said. “The first one, you don't know what to expect. It literally takes your breath away.”
Police, fire and emergency medical services personnel from across the area have teamed up for the third straight year to raise money for the Pennsylvania Special Olympics.
Forty-four members of team “Southern Command” — comprised of representatives from Baldwin Borough police, Baldwin Emergency Medical Services, Allegheny County 911 dispatchers, Jefferson Hills police, Clairton police and the Western Pennsylvania Benevolent Fund — have committed to participate in the 2013 Pittsburgh Polar Plunge, which is presented by Law Enforcement for Special Olympics PA with the goal of raising $30,000 for the Pennsylvania Special Olympics.
This year, two members of Southern Command — Kreger and Plunkett — have pledged to participate as “Super Plungers.” They are raising $3,500 each for the Special Olympics and will jump into the cold water once an hour for 24 hours on Dec. 13 and 14.
Plunkett started team “Southern Command” in 2011. It seemed like a good way to unite police, fire and emergency services personnel in the South Hills for a good cause, he said.
“I always wanted to do something like this, but I didn't feel like jumping in the water for absolutely no reason in the middle of the winter made much sense,” Plunkett said.
After the first jump, the group got a large number of requests from others to participate.
In 2012, more than 60 participants raised more than $16,000, winning the third place “Battle of the Badges” award, or “official bragging rights” for who earns the most money in law enforcement, fire and EMS for the event.
Kreger also last year participated as a “Super Plunger,” where he was required to raise $2,500 and jump in the Ohio River on the North Side at least 24 times in 24 hours. He jumped 26 times.
He saw that another officer he previously worked with was doing the Super Plunge. That was incentive enough for the Baldwin Borough officer to sign up.
“Most people think it's crazy jumping in 32-, 34-degree water,” Kreger said.
Seeing the faces of the children that came to the event last year, though, made it all worth it.
The super plunge wasn't easy.
“You said it was the hardest thing you've ever done in your life,” Plunkett said. “At 3 o'clock in the afternoon when the people are all standing there cheering you on it's probably OK, but in the middle of the night when the geese are swimming by — it's hard.”
The participants wear lifejackets and are provided with a warming area. Having colder temperatures outside actually makes the jumps easier.
The water temperature will remain the same, but the shock on the body will be less.
“We're hoping for snow,” said Marissa Williams, shift commander with Allegheny County 911.
As emergency responders, being aware of the dangers of jumping in the water can be hard, but knowing who is there — like river rescue — to ensure no one is injured, makes the situation OK, Plunkett said.
Knowing all of this, Plunkett said he's nervous about one thing: raising enough money.
“I don't want to commit to something and not be able to raise the money,” Plunkett said. “This is to benefit the kids. I'm more concerned about that.”
The camaraderie between the first responders makes this even more special.
“I'm anxious to go. I wish it was tomorrow,” Kreger said.
For more on their fundraising efforts, visit www.southerncommand.org.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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