By Tiffany Morgan, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — Whitney Porter, a firefighter at the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, arrived at Morgantown High School on Monday morning to present the importance of fire safety to students.
The program, hosted by Porter, continues today and provides students with first-hand information from volunteer firefighters. It’s the third consecutive year for the program.
In addition to the education aspect, the students also have the opportunity to sign up and volunteer in the community as firefighters when they reach the age of 18.
In order to volunteer, students must go through classes and training that allow them to properly learn what to do in the event of a fire, as well as how to handle the equipment. Porter said the idea for the program was developed three years ago at a county meeting during a discussion about the difficulty of getting recruits at local fire departments.
Porter decided that it would be beneficial to bring the idea to the youth of the surrounding community and potentially recruit some students into local fire departments. In addition to learning fire safety, each student also learns how to perform CPR.
Before the students have the opportunity to learn about the equipment, try on the gear and sit in the fire truck, Porter makes a presentation to get the students educated and interested. Porter shows the students photos of current students who are working on site, as well as the importance of fire safety.
“I have an index card, and we talk about ‘How important is fire safety?’ Then they write down a number one through 10. And then I have them write down three names of people they care about, and then I have them circle the one that would miss them the most if they died in a house fire — kind of gets their attention,” Porter said.
The firefighters then show the students the fire truck, introducing them to many important tools that firefighters use, and the students have the opportunity to try on the gear and use a fire extinguisher.
The program circulates to each high school in the county, Clay-Battelle, University and Morgantown.
“They get so excited, and I love teaching them something they didn’t know. For example, if their pan of food is on fire, no one has guessed to put a lid on it. So now they all know the best way is to smother the fire with the lid to the pan,” Porter said.
Zach Andrews, a three-year volunteer firefighter at the Cheat Lake VFD said the program is an opportunity for students to find an interest in fighting fires.
“I love seeing the way the kids interact and seeing how they’re getting interest for it, and how they want to help support their community,” Andrews said.
Andrews said he likes seeing students get interested and pursue going through the firefighter training.
“There’s not too many people who are interested anymore, so when you pick up three or four kids who want to do it for the rest of their lives, one day they’ll possibly be the leader of their department,” Andrews said.
Andrews, who grew up around the fire department, said working for the department helped developed relationships that became a “brotherhood.”
“With how everyone gets along and the brotherhood — the heritage behind it is something to look forward to. There’s always something new,” Andrews said.
Porter said they plan to bring a class to the Monongalia County Technical Education Center (MTEC) to train students in the program, and although a “work in progress,” it will be initiated within the next couple of years.
“Our goal is 2020 to have a program at MTEC,” Porter said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but we’re trying.”