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IN NORTH PARK, ROUGHLY 7000 PEOPLE a year walk into a burning building. Or a smoking tower. Or down a deep, confining hole. Besides the high temperatures, it’s nothing to sweat over... at least, for trainees at the County of Allegheny Department of Emergency Services Fire Academy.

Staff Instructor Al Wickline leads me through the “burn building,” one test for trainees. The inside, coated with layers of ash, reminds me of a fireplace. Wickline’s voice echoes off the blackened walls as he describes a basic training session from a program he created, “The Pennsylvania Essentials of Fire Fighting,” one of several that run from February to November.

I picture firefighters inching through the doorway, flames reflecting in their masks. They are only 14 – 20 years old (a typical age for beginners), but greatly prepared in mind-set. Smoke heavily lingers as teams of two navigate through the hazy heat and spot the fire. It “mushrooms” from the ground to the ceiling, creating a canopy — a common sight in residential fires. The temperature rises to 400 degrees.

If you think that’s hot, it’s not. A firefighter’s suit can withstand heat up to 900 degrees. But that’s just the floor’s temperature. Above, it’s a scorching 1300 degrees.

In the next room, Wickline points to a stairway and describes an advanced session: “You come down feet first on your belly and the fire goes out over your head.” Excitement sparks in his eyes as he remembers the adrenaline rush.

Outside, our shoes leave sooty footprints as we pass broken glass and scattered car parts: remnants from a burning vehicle. “We try to create worst case scenarios that are realistic,” Wickline says, explaining they sometimes replicate news stories. There are overturned HazMat vehicles (leaking water, don’t worry), trenches, rope repelling, and fire engines – all options to specialize in after the basic course.

We stop next to a red trailer, a “Flash Over Simulator,” the only place in Western PA where firefighters can learn to control a fire from suddenly climbing to 1500 degrees. Inside the small compartment, six trainees will take turns kneeling before an inferno for 30 minutes. A barrel and several hanging chunks of wood burn: the glue within them creates flammable chemicals for the blaze to feed upon.

Sound crazy? It’s all part of the program’s 88 hours of ignited instruction volunteer firefighters receive to protect you.

Now that’s hot!


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Planning the ultimate bachelorette party | by Sarah Kotzman


A note to the best man and maid of honor: You want to give the betrothed a spectacular evening, but let’s face it – we’re not all event planners. To give them a party like you see in the movies, take a look at our guide. WHIRL has researched with the pros to pinpoint the ideal locations and gifts, helping you to create an amazing occasion.


One Hot Party Heat up the party in the Strip District. The Firehouse Lounge is flexible when it comes to hosting parties — because 70 percent of its clientele is female, owner Spencer Warren says that bachelorette parties are more prominent than bachelor parties. Reserve their private VIP room and enjoycustom cuisine — the chef can create a menu with food and drink based on the tastes of the bachelorette. In the past, because one particular bride-to-be loved peach flavored drinks, Warren says that they’ve tweaked the signature Swedish Mimosa into a Peach (Insert bride’s name here) Mimosa — for example: the Peach Tina Mimosa. “We try to make it a personalized experience for each guest,” Warren says.


The Essential Treatment Escape to the spa for massages, facials, Mimosas — the works — at one of Sewickley Spa’s three locations. “It’s the ideal way to relax. You can unwind in a robe and slippers with someone else to take care of you,” president Dorothy Andreas- Tuel says. “Before anyone’s wedding, there is so much focus and energy needed to go into the whole event. I think bachelorettes never stop to take time for themselves.” With a reservation, the spa pampers up to 20 at a time, offering all of the essential treatments, plus catering if desired.


Ladies Night In Have a girls’ night in where guests pamper the lucky lady with gifts of lingerie for the wedding nightand honeymoon. “We have different styles and beautiful fabrics for all tastes. You can buy elegant nightgowns, flirtypanties — whatever the bachelorette’s personality,” says Barbara DeLuce, Pussycat associate. Shake up some cocktails and book the newCatering by LeMont to please your private party with dining and décor. “Give us an idea of what you’d like, and our chef will design a menu,” says catering director Mark Balach, explaining his service also works with florists or DJs.


The Extreme Bachelor For the adventure lover, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort offers an Off Road Driving Academy, where the bachelor and his buddies can romp over rocks in Hummers. Anyone with a valid license can brave the elements through 20 miles of rugged trails, or take on a course like “The Crater,” learning to forge water, navigate through vertical steps, and tackle 60 percent inclines. “The more people, the more fun,” says administrative assistant Rebecca Bell. “You can share the experience with other people and compare stories.” Clay shooting and skiing are also among the many extreme sports to choose from at the resort. To continue your rowdy and rugged experience, make a reservation at The Top Gun Lodge, an Adirondack-inspired log cabin with built-in fire pits. “The best feature is that it’s very secluded,” says Kay Maghan, Director of Public Relations. “If they’re going for the manly adventure, it’s the perfect place to stay.”


Fit to a Tee Where better for the bachelors to escape than a day on the green? Quicksilver Golf Club offers to design a golfing program that suits your posse’s individual needs, and will determine what type of game best fits your party’s size. “It’s an excellent way to start the day,” says Sean Parees, director of golf. “The guys would have a great time.” And after the 18th hole, stopin to enjoy Quicksilver’s beautiful clubhouse and a few drinks. The party will definitely be up to par.


(Almost) Top the Wedding Who says you have to celebrate separately? Host a “stag and drag” combo party where guests donate toward the cost of the wedding. Make donating exciting — Entertainment Unlimited can bring Las Vegas into the comfort of your own home with casino tables and slot machines. “Anything that gets people interacting keeps the party fun,” says owner Bonnie Tambellini. She suggests buying in for play-money, which can be printed with the fiancés’ faces. “Or, have a dance party with a terrific DJ and special lighting effects, which can turn any venue into a New York City disco.” To end your blast, light up your last night to be single with a pyrotechnic fireworks show.


Make an Entrance For whatever evening you choose, have a limousine ready in the driveway. All Star Limousine’s chauffeurs will arrive and return to anywhere you please. Seat yourself in the classic stretch Lincoln or a custom designed H2 Hummer. Most vehicles include a fully stocked bar. “We’re able to help you avoid linesand cover charges,” says president and owner Louis Weiner, explaining that All Star Limousine has great relationships with many Pittsburgh nightclubs. “We’ll do anything to make the evening the most pleasurable experience.”

© 2019 Sarah Kotzman  |  Los Angeles, CA  |


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