21 volunteer firefighters pass certification course

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 29, 2007

Twenty-one Lincoln County volunteer firefighters completed atwo-month certification course Saturday, making another stridetoward lower insurance rates for county residents.

“When the rating bureau comes down to do the class rating, theycheck your equipment, your trucks, and your records, and they askedhow many paid firefighters and certified volunteers are on yourroster,” said Zetus Volunteer Fire Chief Dale Anding. “The morecertified volunteers you have that have been to the academy andgotten their certifications, the more it helps with the process andthe rating.”

Before the course, Lincoln County only had 16 certifiedvolunteer firefighters, and completion of the course more thandoubled that number. Of the 21 who received their certificationSaturday, four were from Zetus, four were from the Ruth VFD, onewas from Heuck’s Retreat, 10 were from Hog Chain, and two were fromBogue Chitto.

The group actually put in about 70 hours of work for a 48-hourclass, said Mississippi State Fire Academy Associate InstructorEric Smith.

The training, which was hosted by the Hog Chain and Bogue ChittoDepartments, was held at the Bogue Chitto facility starting at theend of August. Volunteers met sometimes as many as four times aweek in order to learn the skills necessary to pass both a writtentest and a physical test held Saturday at the Mississippi StateFire Academy.

“I really appreciate (Bogue Chitto Volunteer Fire Chief) SedgieMercier for letting us use the Bogue Chitto station for ourtraining,” said Smith. “And the owner of the old store where wewere able to work on our smoke drills. We had great facilities towork in.”

Hog Chain Chief John Hart said he went through the course notonly to gain the certification for his rating district, but also tobe an example to the people of his department.

“I wasn’t going to ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do,” hesaid. “I didn’t expect them to take it if I wasn’t going to takeit, and I believe that’s the way to lead. I wasn’t just tellingthem what to do, I was saying, ‘Come on, let’s go, I’ll be rightthere with you.'”

And building that trust in each other was part of what preparedthe group for the physical test Saturday, Smith said. But more thanthat, it will manifest itself on the fireground.

“When working together shows up is on the fire scene,” he said.”You feel better with your air pack, and you feel better with thepeople you’re in with. We had people overcome fears of ladders,claustrophobia, and even just the basic fear of ‘Can I dothis?'”

Hart said the feeling overall among the firefighters was thatthey are much more prepared to handle any situation, especially nowthat a bond has been created with those who will be facing the firewith them.

“You won’t have any doubts, you’ll have confidence in yourfellow firefighters now that you know what they’re capable of. Andyou know their weak and strong points, so you know better what todo with them,” he said. “It goes to show that if everyone works asa team and pulls together, there are no goals you can’taccomplish.”

Smith’s assistant instructor Aaron Welch, also a member ofBrookhaven Fire Department and Zetus Fire Department, said thecertification itself is quite a goal.

“As a certified volunteer, you have something you can really beproud of,” he said. “It sets you apart.”

And Smith pointed out that having a common goal and having toput in hours of training gives firefighters a different attitudetoward their departments.

“Once you get in the classes, you start to realize that evenwhen you’re volunteers, it’s important to have a professionaldepartment,” he said. “You get departments headed toward being moreprofessional, the community’s confidence in you goes up and yourdonations go up.”

Ruth VFD Chief Teresa Lawrence said it helped her department toget a feel for some of the departments from the northern part ofthe county that Ruth doesn’t work with every day.

“The overall experience was good for everybody, and it was goodfor all the departments to be together and train together,” shesaid. “And finishing all together was wonderful, knowing that wesucceeded, and that what we set out to do, we did.”

She said she felt the participants in the class were ready forthe test because the instructors prepared them for every bit ofit.

“Eric and Aaron did a wonderful job getting us ready for it,”she said. “And Blake (Wallace, of the Brookhaven Fire Department),who came in to help instruct at the end, they were a lot harder onus than they had to be. But I was glad because we were ready whenchallenge time came.”

Smith, who reiterated how proud he was of the effort put forthby his class, encouraged them to continue their training not onlyfor the good of the county ratings, but for their own good aswell.

“Don’t stop here,” he said. “This is the tip of where you can gowith this. You’ve just got your foot in the door, and if you keepup your training, you can do so much more.”

Anding said his department is ready for the next round ofclasses and certifications.

“We’re looking forward to the next class and we’re hoping we canget more volunteers to take it,” he said. “Not only it wouldbenefit all the departments and their districts if they could gettheir people to take it, it also vastly improves thedepartments.”

Smith also had a word of advice for the public.

“Support your volunteer fire department, because that’s whereyou get your fire rating,” he said. “The bureau does not just dropin on your department and say, ‘OK, you’ve been in business longenough we’ll knock your rating down.’ You’ve got to maintain yourtraining, you’ve got to have the people and the equipment, andvolunteer departments survive on donations from the public.”

Hart reminded county residents that the volunteers are there fortheir protection.

“I want the communities to all see that we’re just trying toserve them better,” he said. “It’s their department, and we want toinstill better trust in us. If they call on us, we’ll give them thebest protection we can.”