Fire Academy students get a taste of the real thing
Billie Jo Line and Alston Lee Harris needed only one word to describe their first experience with fighting a real fire: awesome.
Line and Harris and their eight classmates in the Basic Fire Academy class at Mitchell Community College completed the final part of the three-month course Wednesday by fighting a live fire at a vacated home on Logan Street, just off Garner Bagnal Boulevard.
While it was awesome for the 10 rookie firefighters, seeing her childhood home burn was bittersweet for Thelbert Summers.
“This is so sad,” she said as she watched the first flames come through the roof and the smoke drift across Garner Bagnal Boulevard.
Summers and her six siblings grew up in the house, but after her parents both died in 1998, the house was eventually vacated and fell into disrepair.
“It was becoming a hazard,” she said. “We didn’t want anyone to go in and get hurt.”
So the family donated the house to be used for fire training.
“It’s helping on both ends,” she said. “They need the training and we needed to do something with the house.”
Statesville Fire Department Capt. John Perry, who is the lead instructor for the class, said the 10 recruits began the Basic Fire Academy on Sept. 4 and will graduate on Dec. 17.
“This is their final phase before state testing,” he said.
Class members range in age from 18 to 40, and in addition to Line, there is one other woman in the class.
It was their first time fighting a real fire. Thus far, most of the training has come from books and lectures. They will complete their live fire training today when they practice extinguishing vehicle fires.
Learning on real fires is vital, Perry said. There’s only so much instructors and books can tell them about firefighting, he said. Finding out about fire behavior and experiencing it first-hand is the best training, Perry said.
Harris was happy to get his first taste of firefighting. “It’s better than sitting in class,” he said.
As Harris and Line and their classmates dealt with the fire, Summers’ daughter, Wanda Lawrence, took pictures with her cell phone. “These are my memories. I want to be able to keep them,” she said.
Summers also said there were a lot of memories wrapped up in the house and those memories will stay with her even after the house is reduced to ashes.
“God blessed us with some wonderful years,” she said.
On Wednesday, her main hope was that these men and women received the training they need to help others and that no one is injured.
“I pray everyone will be safe,” she said.