In the line of fire

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    BYRAM-Byram Township Fire Chief Meg Sesselberg faces huge challenges everyday. But the hardest thing isn't the fact that she is the only woman on a team of 38 firefighters. Nor is it the countless dinners and family events she has had to miss or leave in the middle. The most difficult thing Sesselberg must confront is fatalities on the job, like the one that occurred recently at Cranberry Lake. Fifty-seven-year-old Charles Chittenden was killed when the house in which he was living was engulfed in flames. "You never get used to it," said Sesselberg. "It hits so close to home. When you live in town you know most of the people so you usually know someone involved." Sesselberg is in the middle of her second full term as fire chief, an elected position. And she plans to run for re-election next November. It is a job she just kind of "fell in to." Sesselberg started out about 11 years ago in what was then called the Ladies Auxiliary, a fund-raising and support arm of the fire department. The group is now called the Auxiliary Response Team and is made up of both men and women. She caught the fire bug and decided to get the formal training needed to become a firefighter, which includes 125 hours of course study, a state exam and a "hands-on" exam where she was put through simulated firefighting exercises. It has become a family affair. Her son-in-law, Ricky Hoffman, is the captain of her team. Daughter Heidi Hoffman is head of the Auxiliary Response Team. Even her husband, Tom, has had a hand in at one time as a firefighter. Sesselberg now heads up a force of 38 -- all male and all volunteers. There is no gender barrier, she said. But that doesn't mean there are no male-female issues. When the call of duty sounds, she has to worry about the interrupted dinner or family event at home while she leaves to fight a fire. The men, she said, get to leave everything in the capable hands of the wives they leave behind.