WVU Fire Service Extension provides lifesaving skills to firefighters across state, region
WESTON, W.Va.—When a gas stove erupts in flames or a home is set ablaze, firefighters in all corners of the state spring into action to help extinguish these infernos.
Wherever those firefighters are located – from Bluefield to Weirton and Charles Town to Charleston – it’s likely those life-saving skills were learned through West Virginia University Fire Service Extension.
Located near WVU Jackson’s Mill in Weston, WVU Fire Service Extension trains more than 6,000 firefighters and first-responders every year from West Virginia and the surrounding states.
The home for WVU Fire Service Extension, known as the West Virginia State Fire Academy, was completed in 2008 as a collaborative funding effort of WVU, the West Virginia Legislature and the Higher Education Policy Commission. The 26,000-square-foot facility has two wings: office and classroom/computer labs, plus a large training bay for inside training.
When seconds count, training matters.
The program provides critical, high-quality training for volunteer and career firefighters, who often serve as the first line of defense in emergencies well beyond fire and rescue operations, including chemical spills, terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction.
“We teach a variety of lifesaving skills, depending on what the unit or organization needs,” said Lanny Adkins, WVU Fire Service Extension program coordinator. “We help expand the knowledge they already have and help them to teach others, as well.”
We teach a variety of lifesaving skills, depending on what the unit or organization needs,’ said Lanny Adkins, WVU Fire Service Extension program coordinator. ‘We help expand the knowledge they already have and help them to teach others, as well.
Fire Service Extension is one example of a 21st Century program that fulfills the vision of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which established the U.S. Cooperative Extension System, a partnership of the Department of Agriculture, land-grant colleges, and state and local governments.
WVU is celebrating the Act’s centennial, and with a two-day symposium, entitled Century Beyond the Campus: Past, Present, and Future of Extension. The symposium highlights not only how WVU has structured modern Extension service, but how Extension extends educational, social and economic benefits of higher education beyond the campus and into communities across the state.
Training the next generation of firefighters
While Fire Service Extension trains firefighters across the state, it also trains firefighters of all ages. Adkins’ cadre of instructors from fire departments in Elkins, Huntington, Bridgeport and others gather to offer their best to training to youngsters interested in the trade.
Teens have the opportunity to work with Fire Service Extension to learn to combat live fires through the Junior Firefighter Camp. The camp, which is one of just a few of its kind in the country, accepts teens ages 14-17 who are interested in learning emergency skills for a weeklong, overnight camp at Jackson’s Mill.
“The camp develops kids both physically and mentally; we help nurture that interest they have in firefighting and get them hooked on the lifelong interest of serving their communities,” said Adkins, who spent 37 years in Huntington as a firefighter.
We are here to help each entity protect themselves as a first line of defense,’ Adkins said. ‘That's what Fire Service Extension is all about.
Campers are taught the basics of firefighting operations, including CPR and first aid, as well as how to property handle the fire apparatus, hose line, personal protective equipment, ground and aerial ladders, and self-contained breathing apparatus.
“These kids come to us crying because they don’t want to leave their families, but by week’s end, they’re crying because they don’t want to leave the camp,” Adkins said. “Somewhere along the line they’ve seen folks firefighting and thought ‘I want to be that’ and it’s phenomenal to see that spark in their eyes and know that a dream of theirs is coming true.”
Enabling the community to fight flames
While Fire Service Extension hosts training on site at the academy, it also provides educational, hands-on training at employer/industry sites.
Fire Service Extension uses a 53-foot mobile trailer that sparks fires in various areas, along with smoke, flames, sounds and obstacles to mimic real-life structural fire conditions. The system is controlled from an observation room, and the instructor is able to shut down operations and ventilate the unit within 90 seconds.
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The program also has an aircraft that Fire Service Extension uses throughout the state and region to assist local airport emergency services in meeting certification requirements. Airport emergency services, fire departments and law enforcement are all able to take part in this training.
“We are here to help each entity protect themselves as a first line of defense,” Adkins said. “That’s what Fire Service Extension is all about.”
Thousands of fires claim homes each year in the United States, resulting in injuries, death and billions in property damage.
Fire Service Extension, Adkins said, aims to save property, the environment and – most importantly – lives.
“You can’t replace people,” he said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone. So it’s incredibly rewarding to be in this line of work, and we do everything we can to help people and give people tools they need to help others.”