UHS students learn about fire safety

MORGANTOWN — Michael Hovatter was feeling the weight of responsibility Monday morning at University High School.

That’s in part because the freshman was swaddled in 40 pounds of firefighting gear.

Coat buckles rattled. and the helmet bounced off the bridge of his nose as he negotiated one of those signature-long hallways at UHS.

Trudging as he was, he couldn’t help but think what it would be like if he was wearing the uniform for real.

He pictured himself lumbering into the smoke and fire of a burning building — with everyone else attempting to escape the flames.

“It makes me appreciate what firemen do,” he said.

And firewomen.

Whitney Porter smiled when she saw the spark of realization.

“That’s the reaction we want,” she said.

Into the fire

It was even better when young Mr. Hovatter said he might want to be a volunteer firefighter someday.

She felt the same way when she was his age.

Porter, a dental hygienist by day, has been known to wear a 40-pound outfit on evenings and weekends as a member of the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department. On Monday, she took time off from her day job, though, to talk fire safety in the morning’s health classes taught by Kristi Wyant and Jeff Core. She’ll do the same at Morgantown High School next month.

Both Wyant and Core, meanwhile, are known for the guest speakers they bring in, from paramedics to policemen. A recent speaker, for instance, Core said, is a recovering heroin addict and UHS graduate.

“That’s a person who went to school in this building,” Core said. “That’s a person who was in the same classrooms and the same hallways. It brings it home.”

Porter and other speakers brought the topic of fire safety home Monday, at the sprawling school on Baker Ridge.

“How many of you have an evacuation plan at home in case your house catches on fire?” Porter asked.

Only a couple of hands went up.

“You need that plan,” she said.

“You need to practice it,” she continued.

“You need to have a prescribed meeting place outside after you get out. If your parents don’t see you, they’re gonna run back in to try to find you. And people who run back into burning structures die.”

Porter’s first-responder colleagues were there for support. The Cheat Lake VFD brought a pumper truck, and Star City dispatched an ambulance.

Students modeled firefighter gear and got to see the vehicles up close. They got to see Zach Karn up close, also. He’s a WVU senior and Star City volunteer firefighter who goes out on calls in between classes.

“I have to balance a lot,” he said, “but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Learning how to be a lifesaver

As a teenager, Karn was a junior firefighter, basically an apprentice to a volunteer fire department. Junior firefighters are critical in Monongalia County, Porter said. Elev-en of the county’s 13 operations are VFDs.

If you’re interested in becoming a junior firefighter, you can call her, at 304-290-3389.

Justin Murray did and is just now getting into balancing as a junior firefighter at Cheat Lake. He’s a 16-year-old UHS student whose second-ever call was a fully involved house fire. Because of his age and junior status, he wasn’t allowed to get too close to the flames — but he was there.

“I had adrenaline overload,” he said. “I was getting to help people.”

Follow The Dominion Post on Twitter@DominionPostWV. Email Jim Bissett: