Emergency personnel put their lives on the line every single time they get the call to go to work. Sometimes they do not return as was the case for 412 who did not return home on Sept. 11, 2001, with 343 of them being firefighters.
Those 343 have been honored in a number of ways such as the tattoo on Kris Waugh’s arm, but nothing honors them as much as the training that continues their service.
“[September 11] hits me close to home. That’s one of the reasons why I joined the military myself,” explained Waugh during the Elkin Fire Department Open House Monday evening.
Waugh and fellow veteran Robert Sloan are firefighter trainee hopefuls awaiting continued service.
“I’ve been in fire service since I was 13-years old so it’s something that I’ve always loved and I’ve always enjoyed,” said Sloan. “It’s something you can’t grow away from. You’ve got everybody here that, no matter what, is willing to help you out.”
“I like the thought of helping somebody and knowing they can never repay me for what I did to help them,” said Waugh, who had served in the Jonesville department with Sloan.
“I love helping my community,” said Sloan. “Anything I can do to help somebody makes me feel great. It’s just a big pleasure to me.”
One of the ways new trainees learn to help is through controlled burns like the one on Johnson Ridge Road Saturday.
Surry Community College, CC Camp and Elkin fire departments hosted 49 firefighters from nine different stations, learning by doing and impressing local neighbors, Agnes Billings, Joyce Coe and Marie Crouse.
“They did an excellent job from my point of view and what knowledge I have of stuff like that,” said Coe. “You didn’t hardly even smell it or nothing. We’ve been sitting here watching it pretty much on and off all day.”
Crouse, who had been on the industrial fire brigade, agreed, “I think they done an excellent job. From what I seen today, it looks like they’re well equipped.”
“Each person has a different job on the scene,” explained CC Camp Deputy Chief Dustan Murphy, “so we want to make sure that while they’re here training they are able to utilize the job skills that we have trained them to use.
“We utilized the house for learning several different tactics, suppression activities and so forth,” said Murphy. “We want to be able to instruct people how to use the nozzle and how to advance, how to bring back our hose lines.”
“The key thing [with a live burn is to] get experience you can’t get anywhere else other than in an actual fire,” said CC Camp Chief Lanny Whitaker, who thinks it is important for the instructors to be able to be inside to see that the students are learning. “That was our goal and I think we accomplished that.
“We had a lot of newer firefighters who were able to make an attack and to be able to see what the fire’s actually doing inside,” said Whitaker. “We had a lot of new recruits and got a lot of good training in.”
The state of the house and the weather were helpful in creating a good atmosphere for the training.
“It was a really old house. We had a lot of running and chasing to put it out,” explained Whitaker. “I think we done really good with that. We had plenty of people to get it [taken] care of.”
“Everybody worked together really good,” said SCC instructor Eric Southern. “It was a great day of training.”
“We did have to go back and forth fighting the fire a little bit,” said Murphy.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of winds. It was blowing, but it wasn’t really against us. I think one time it kind of picked up a little bit and that kind of fueled it quicker than we wanted to fuel it. We don’t always have weather on our side and we really didn’t know about today,” said Murphy.
“I feel like it was probably one of the better ones that we’ve had at least in the last 10 years,” said 15-year burn veteran Murphy. “I think as long as somebody goes home with something that they didn’t know at the end of the day I think it’s a good day.”
Participating in the live burn were Arlington Fire & Rescue, Boonville Community, Pilot Knob, Ronda Community, Shoals, State Road and Traphill fire departments.
Assisting were Elkin Rescue Squad as well as Surry County Air Truck, EMS and Rehab program.
According to Murphy, the most successful aspect of a live burn is, “everybody getting to go home, that’s our main thing,” however that doesn’t always happen.
In such moments as Sept. 11, 2001, when emergency personnel lost their lives in their service, sometimes the only thing another person can do is keep serving.
“That’s why I joined the fire department and that’s why I joined the military,” said Sloan. “It’s the only way I can help out and be a part of my community.”
Lt. John Kuhlman of the Elkin Fire Department took it one step further. He actually took it 110 stories further.
“I did the stair climb in Roanoke, Virginia, on Saturday to honor the fallen,” said Kuhlman. “We climbed 110 stories and we had to do it five times in the building that we were in.”
“The Twin Towers were 110 stories,” explained Kuhlman, “and never got to the top. We finished what they started. We carried pictures — it gives me chills to just even talk about it — of the fallen firefighters, and police officers and emergency responders with us to the top, symbolically finishing what they started and carrying them with us.
“It was an honor. It was brutal, but it was an honor,” said Kuhlman. “It got me really emotional thinking they climbed up here not knowing what they were getting into, but once they wore themselves out, they went to work doing what we do every day.”
Still visibly moved by the experience several days later on the actual anniversary of the event, Kuhlman related his thoughts as he climbed.
“We in the fire service, rescue, EMS, police, we do what we do every day regardless, just like they were doing that day 16 years ago. It was an honor to honor them.”
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.