Talk about a view.
For 50 hours, Amherst firefighter Eric Graham will be 70 feet in the air, atop the Amherst Fire Department’s aerial platform, participating in the 19th Annual John Michels Sr. MD Ladder Sit.
“A little nervous, but a little excited too,” the 30-year-old Amherst firefighter said as he prepared to climb into the bucket that would take him into the air in the Walmart parking lot until Saturday at 2 p.m.
“So many firefighters have gone before me and to me it’s an honour to be given the opportunity to continue what they started. It’s the least I can do to support the fire department and the muscular dystrophy campaign.”
Graham, who grew up in Amherst and served in the air cadets, joined the fire department in 2008 and served until 2013, when he moved to Hilden while working in Halifax. He was a member of the Hilden Fire Brigade until coming back to Amherst in 2017 to set up his own company E. Graham Electrical Solutions.
“When I moved back I immediately rejoined the department and when they were looking for someone to do the ladder sit this year I put my name forward,” said Graham, an interior firefighter with Engine 2.
Graham said he’s not nervous about heights after spending considerable time working on scissor lifts and will pass the time watching movies on his tablet. He joked he may even bring out his bagpipes.
“I’d probably be the only guy around playing the bagpipes 70 feet in the air,” he said. “Of course, I’d have to open up the canopy a little. It could get pretty loud if I didn’t.”
Dwight Wheaton, who hoisted Graham into the air, participated in the ladder sit two years ago, said it’s a privilege to be a ladder sitter.
“I had a good experience when I was up,” he said. “I had a little bit of rain, but I had some great guys working with me.”
Wheaton said the key for him was keeping busy and getting as much rest as possible.
The sitter doesn’t stay atop the ladder for the entire 50 hours. He banks five minutes for every hour and comes down for periodic medical checks and for a walk to keep the leg muscles from cramping up.
He also gets a chance to have something to eat, with local restaurants donating meals for the ladder sitter.
Chief Greg Jones, a ladder sitter himself in 2010, said the event is a way for the association to give back to the community. For the Amherst Fire Department, the MD campaign is the main benefactor of what’s a year-long fundraising effort.
“It’s not a hard thing to find someone to be the ladder sitter. It’s a prestigious thing for a member to be the ladder sitter,” he said. “The biggest thing for the committee if selecting someone from the list. We remind the membership every year of the importance of the ladders sit and with Eric being up there, giving 50 hours of his time away from his family, that it’s up to us to come out and participate.”
Jones said he still looks fondly back at his time in the bucket nine years ago and gave him a huge appreciation to the effort it takes to organize and run an event such as this. He said a lot goes into preparing for the ladder sit, and to think of all the things that have happened since the first ladder sit 25 years he continues to be amazed by the commitment and generosity shown by firefighters and members of the community like Joe Dupuis, nurse Dawn Thompson and Dr. Brian Ferguson and the restaurants that provide food.
“There’s great support in the community to make this happen,” Jones said.
There will be voluntary toll stations, manned by firefighters and volunteers from the sea cadet corps, at the entrances to the Walmart and Atlantic Superstore parking lots. Jones hopes people give what they can, but also exercise caution in the area.
The ladder sit raises, on average, approximately $15,000 for the MD campaign.