Firefighters train at Mingo County fire school

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WYMT/WSAZ) - More than 100 firefighters got hands-on training to improve and build upon their skills to search and rescue.

With 10 of Mingo County’s 11 fire departments staffed entirely by volunteers, money is hard to come by. Departments say that’s one reason they’re happy to have inexpensive training through Mingo County’s 6th annual fire school, sponsored by an extension program of West Virginia University.

The training is going on in Williamson this weekend and allows new firefighters and veterans alike to refresh their firefighting skills.

“Many of them are firefighter Level One students, which is an entry-level course, so they're learning for the first time how to combat a fire, they're dealing with fire behavior, as well as how to handle smoke and other things that occur on a structure fire,” Mark Doty, the program director, said.

The training costs just $35 per person – much less expensive than training would be otherwise.

Mingo County is one of the few counties in the state without a fire levy that would help pay for equipment and training for firefighters.

“Our fire levy failed in Mingo County, and that's put an additional burden on our fire departments in this county to provide our firefighters with the needed gear that they need to do their jobs,” Gilbert Fire Chief Michael Tolley said.

Firefighters went through live burn units to put out fires. Some also learned vehicle extrication, or using tools like the Jaws of Life to cut victims from wrecked cars.

The overarching goal is to be better and quicker at their jobs.

“It helps us find them before they get burned, or before they get smoke in their lungs and stuff like that. It helps us find them quicker,” Cory Coy, a firefighter, said of the live burn training.

For Steven Naw, who has only been training as a firefighter for a few months, it’s an opportunity to test the waters.

“It's a little bit safer to have a controlled environment instead of going into a real thing at first,” Naw said.

“They're learning for the first time how to combat a fire,” Doty said. “They're dealing with fire behavior, as well as how to handle smoke and other things that occur on a structure fire.”

Tolley said this is a cost-effective way for his department to train new firefighters and veterans without having to travel out of town.

“If we were to, say for instance, go to Morgantown to a school or whatever, we'd have that cost of your fuel expenses, your food and lodging expenses,” Tolley said. “Here we can travel back and forth to our own homes.”

He added, “You can only be as good as your training will allow you and by going through this training today and through this weekend, it prepares all of our firefighters to do a better job of what they do.”

Doty said the vehicle extrication is another important part of the training, especially because of the mountains in the area.

“We go over terrain and various stabilization issues that we have, especially in southern West Virginia” when teaching vehicle extrication, Doty said.

This fire school is one of the largest in the area. Approximately 150 firefighters were expected this weekend.

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