Ellen Moran climbs tower to install antenna and cable for Hancock Fire Department

  • Ellen Moran begins her ascent of the Hancock Fire Department communications tower. Sheila Mahon is on belay, and Capt. Paul Towers tends the new antenna cable, keeping it from entangling Moran. —PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY/HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • From left, (front) Assistant Fire Chief John Pirkey, Chief Tom Bates, Ellen Moran, John Pouliot, Hunt Dowse, Bridges Smith, (back) Spencer Thompson, Capt. Tom Ball, Assistant Fire Chief Mark Thompson, Megan Bedard, Mike Matteson, Capt. Paul Towers, Eric Aldrich (in truck), Dave Lefebvre and Garrett Cassidy. PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY / HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • Ellen Moran about halfway up the  Hancock Fire Department communications tower, while Sheila Mahon is on belay, minding the climbing rope attached to Moran's harness and ready to arrest the rope in the event Moran slips. Paul Towers tends the new antenna cable, keeping it from entangling Moran. —PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY/HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • Ellen Moran scales the 70-foot communications tower beside the Hancock Fire Department to install a new antenna to improve the department's cell signal. —PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY/HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • After an hour, Ellen Moran climbs back down the communications tower at the Hancock Fire Department. Sheila Mahon is on belay, with her back to the camera. PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY/HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • From left, Sheila Mahon, Paul Towers and Ellen Moran review procedures before Moran begins climbing the tower. —PHOTO BY MARYLOU CASSIDY/HANCOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/17/2023 1:12:50 PM

The sun shone brightly and flags snapped in the wind outside the Hancock firehouse on Saturday, Jan. 7. Just before noon, longtime Hancock resident and firefighter Ellen Moran double-checked her harness, and when her wife, Sheila Mahon said, “On belay,” the 5-foot, 1-inch Moran began climbing the 70-foot-tall communications tower.

Hand over hand, Moran climbed, adding quickdraw anchors along the way, the same safety gear she and Mahon use to scale favorite rock faces in the White Mountains. Clipped to the back of her harness were the new antenna and cable she would install once she reached the top.

Thin blue neoprene kayaking gloves were the only thing protecting Moran’s hands from the cold of the steel rungs. Moran had to handle nuts and bolts and tools to install the antenna, and on her way down, she would zip tie the new cable every few feet. The dexterity required didn’t allow much comfort.

Once Moran secured the new antenna to the tower, her fellow firefighters manning the receiver inside the fire house directed Moran to “turn it more to the left… now up, not so much... a little more.” Many adjustments were made until the signal was optimal, and Moran could climb down and warm up.

The installation took over an hour. The new cell antenna solved some longstanding communication blips. Before the booster was installed, many department members could not use their cellphone while in or near the station, and so were unable to communicate with their families or employers when involved in an extended 911 call.

When radio signals are weak, it’s important to have cell phones as a backup form of communication between chiefs, captains and crew. Reliable communication is also critical in the event of other natural disasters, because Hancock Fire Department is the town’s incident command center.

As in most small towns, the Hancock Fire Department is the community’s emergency operations center. In the event of a significant weather event, like the 2008 ice storm, the firehouse was a haven for residents needing to charge their phones and computers, and to simply warm up. A generator ensures the firehouse always has power.

Besides Moran, the department has a couple other rock climbers and one arborist on its crew. Mahon is a member of the Hancock auxiliary, so she was called into action to assist.

The installation was a team effort. Paul Towers, one of the department captains, is skilled in IT. He bought the equipment and did a lot of prep for the cell signal upgrade project. Garrett Cassidy helped Paul install the receiver inside the firehouse.

“All in all, it was terrific teamwork and went well,” Moran said.

Moran said the department is always looking for more members.

“Hancock Fire is a volunteer service and is lucky to have a skilled team. We are the face of the community in that our crew is made up of a wide range of ages from college kids to retired folks,” she said. “We are lucky to have a variety of professionals as well, for example, engineers, mechanics, carpenters, electricians, educators, business people and nurses. Three members serve in the Air Force National Guard.”

“Serving is an incredibly rewarding experience. Your fellow first-responders become your second family. Volunteer squads always need new members. For anyone interested in joining their town’s volunteer service, give your chief a call and make an inquiry. By the way, climbing communication towers is not required,” Moran said.


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