2015-12-17 / Opinions

A great cloud of witnesses were watching Washington Fire Department ceremonies

By KIP BURKE news editor

As I photographed the ceremony at Washington Fire Department Saturday and watched not only an awesome fire truck be placed into service, but three Washington firefighters promoted to much-deserved new ranks, I couldn’t help but think there was, perhaps, a greater cloud of witnesses than the folks we could see.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the late Chiefs Alan Poss and Rufus Rider weren’t leaning over a cloud, looking down from Glory with great pride at the fire department that they’d worked so hard, so long, to have now. Joining them, I’m sure, was a host of departed firefighters from years past, all busting with pride over how their decades of work had paid off.

They’re especially proud, I bet, of the three home-grown men who were promoted: new Assistant Chiefs Kevin Tucker and Greg Scott, and new Captain Ryan Burton. These three men have put in uncountable hours of work and training not just to be ready for the next fire or rescue, but to train all their fellow firefighters to work together as a life-saving team.

All three are members of the elite Georgia Search and Rescue Task Force 3, one of seven such task forces across the state. To attain that high status, they all underwent 240 hours of extra training to learn how to handle everything from massive tornado damage to the collapse of a building, bridge, or construction trench. They continue to pass that specialized technical rescue skills to a new generation of firefighters all over the county, just as Alan Poss knew they would years ago. The chiefs old and new are also proud as they can be about the fancy new ladder truck that was “wet down” into service Saturday. Learning how to access federal grant money, a skill every chief has had to learn, has resulted in our getting, as Chief C.J. Gilland said, “a million dollar ladder truck for the price of a new pickup.”

Some folks, thinking they were saying something clever, have asked why we need a 100-foot-high ladder truck since we’re a little short on skyscrapers. Well, the reality of firefighting and rescue isn’t what you see on old movies, where the ladder was only used to reach windows high on a tall building. That’s just not true anymore.

In our case, it gives the firefighters the ability to reach not just up, but out and over, into large factory buildings to blast water into a fire from above, and to reach out and save structures that otherwise would burn down.

Firefighters on the platform at the top of the “ladder” can also help rescue people who otherwise would be out of reach – on an overturned car in a flooded creek or river, or any other inaccessible location, without risking the lives of the rescuers quite so much. It’s going to be a life-saver, and will serve Washington-Wilkes for the next 30 years, for the price of a pickup truck. So there.

During the ceremony Saturday, two things were said that will stick with me forever. Mayor Ames Barnett said that his office window overlooks the back of the firehouse, and he said he’d been amazed at how the firefighters worked constantly, day in and day out, doing training and equipment maintenance between calls.

The other was what the fire truck company representative Guy Binion said. Binion, a man who works with fire stations all over the country, was very impressed with our firefighters. When a call came in, he said, “they were out of the station and on the scene before most departments would even be leaving the station.”

I bet in Heaven there were some chiefs’ brass buttons popping with pride at those words, and we should be proud too.

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