This is going to be corny, and some will roll their eyes, but I’m going to say it anyway: the newly established Fire Management Services classes at Cherokee High School and Volunteer High School is taking off… wait for it.... like a wildfire. Sorry, no more jokes, I promise.

One thing is for sure, it is no joke whatsoever how rapidly these new Career and Technical Education (CTE) program offerings have grown. That growth is thanks to lots of factors, but two in particular really stand out.

1). We were fortunate to land two eminently qualified instructors who have a passion for this and an ability to connect with students, and 2). We are fortunate to live in a community full of individuals and organizations who see the value in this and have stepped up to offer assistance in making it a success.

Doug Wood — CHS Instructor; and John Murnane — VHS Instructor

Both Wood and Murnane bring 25+ years of firefighting/first responder experience to the classroom. They both, also, have the ability to connect with teenagers and recruit new students for their classes.

We knew on the frontend of establishing this as a new CTE offering that the ability to recruit students would be important; Doug and John have both been hard at it in terms of building their rosters, and they are doing a great job.

Fire departments already benefitting

They have both also been diligent in helping local volunteer fire departments grow in membership.

Doug Wood has seen 18 Cherokee students join local departments as junior members; likewise, 13 of John Murnane’s students at Volunteer have become junior members. Over 30 students have taken the opportunity to join the Hawkins County Volunteer Fireman’s Association as junior members, an opportunity that is free to students under 18.

While Doug and John are both doing a great job, they are both also receiving a lot of assistance from the firefighting community. Both instructors have invited me to join their classes on days when local fire departments have been on site to assist with hands-on training.

I watched for nearly half an hour one day as VHS students practiced rolling and unrolling fire hose quickly — I found myself thinking, “I’ve got to try this before I leave.”

I’ll say this for those who have never tried, it is every bit as difficult as it appears; my attempt was lackluster to say the least, but the VHS students were making it look easy by the end of the class.

Using expired equipment for teaching

Likewise, I had the opportunity to visit with Doug Wood’s class at CHS while Rogersville Fire Department personnel were on site to allow students to practice dragging charged hoses and spraying targets about 75 feet away — that was a fun day for me and I was only watching, I imagine it was even more enjoyable for the students who were practicing, not to mention it was a great learning experience for them.

Both groups have also had a chance to visit with Kingsport Fire Department to see an active station setup and the various training operations full-time firefighters participate in on a regular basis.

The generosity I am discussing, though, goes much further than simply volunteering some time to work with students. Several organizations have donated equipment for students to use as training devices.

Several sets of firefighting turnout gear, hose, and various other pieces of firefighting equipment have been donated by the following departments: Church Hill, Mount Carmel, Eastman, Lakeview, Clearwater Florida, and the Hawkins County Volunteer Fireman’s Association.

Turnout gear has a limited lifespan, and cannot be used for firefighting once it reaches a certain age, at that point it is no longer useful to fire departments. Similarly, fire hose and other equipment is inspected regularly and decommissioned when age and wear make the items unsafe for use in real firefighting scenarios.

Decommissioned pumper truck donated to Cherokee

As the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Although the majority of the equipment donated to the schools is no longer useful for live firefighting, there is still plenty of life left in the equipment to be used for training purposes.

Finally, last week the Hawkins County Volunteer Fireman’s Association and Lakeview Volunteer Fire Department donated a decommissioned pumper truck to be used by the CHS Fire Management Services classes.

The truck was recently replaced when Lakeview VFD took possession of a truck donated to the HCVFA from the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland.

These donations are extremely helpful in terms of establishing these programs. Students will get an opportunity to train and develop their skills using equipment that they will encounter at local departments.

I would like to thank all of those who have helped us with getting these classes up and running; it has truly been a team effort with input, influence, and assistance from many fronts.

Specifically I would like to thank Lisa Kirkpatric, Jaime Miller, Luke Wood, Jason Byington, and Dustin Housewright for their help as we initially began to explore the idea.

They are a selfless lot

Each of these individuals, all of whom are local fire/emergency service workers, gave a lot of their time to help us weed through the many questions we had before officially starting this program.

Those same individuals have also continued to support the program through donations and visiting classes to assist with instruction.

I would also like to thank Kelsie Price and Mike Thacker of the Rogersville Fire Department for the time they have spent working with students. Likewise, Curtis Bean, Andrew Bean, and Justin Nance of Lakeview VFD have volunteered time to work with students at CHS.

Finally, I want to thank Bill Killen of the HCVFA for his support and assistance in all aspects of these programs. Bill has been onboard since day 1 and has helped us secure many of the donations discussed above.

I hesitated to thank people specifically because I know I am likely to have left someone out by mistake; I hope I have not, but if I have please forgive me and know you have our gratitude all the same.

One thing is clear to me, the firefighting community in Hawkins County is a close knit bunch. It became apparent early on that local departments were excited about these programs coming to our schools, and that they were eager to roll up their sleeves and help us make them a success.

I’ve been fortunate and never had the need to call on a firefighter or first responder, but I’m confident that if and when I ever do need to, these same individuals will do all they can to help.

They are a selfless lot, and they have a passion for serving their community — it has been an honor working with them thus far, and I look forward to working with them as we continue to grow these programs.