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Shepherdstown Fire and Cow Rescue
The typical movie fireman is usually seen charging forward with an ax in his hand, hacking away at a door. Firefighter Ross Morgan is quick to say that real firefighters don't just run in and smash down doors. "The first thing rookies are taught" he said, "is 'try before you pry' because most often the doors are unlocked."
Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department's Assistant Fire Chief Ross Morgan has been a firefighter for 20 years. "I was raised with the Fire Department" said Morgan, explaining that his father, D. Lee Morgan, was Fire Chief. "He's Fire Chief Emeritus," Morgan smiled.
According to Morgan, the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department averages 20 or 25 calls a month, which are not necessarily always fires. The Department responds to many types of emergencies, including car wrecks, downed power lines, dangerous spills, and rescue operations of all kinds. They also stand by at the Sharpsburg and Charles Town Fire Stations to cover them if another emergency occurs while their equipment is busy.
Morgan noted that all volunteer firefighters take Firefighter I training given by West Virginia University. Volunteers learn the basics - the use of air packs, how to handle hoses, which tools to use when, and the chain of command. They get additional training in classes put on in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties.
Emergency calls are received by Jefferson County Headquarters. Headquarters calls the Fire Station and volunteers are called on their pagers. All volunteers are on call at all times. The work to be performed by volunteers on each call isn't strictly assigned. Members on hand do any job they are trained for.
Morgan explained that what is done at an emergency scene is predetermined by operating guidelines -which equipment goes out first, how much equipment, and so on.
The Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department's equipment includes two pumpers (engines), one tanker, one ladder truck, a small brush truck and a squad truck that carries an extra man and the air cascade system that can fill air bottles at the scene. There is a rescue unit with Jaws of Life and extrication tools and two ambulances.
All new firefighters are trained in first aid and CPR. Many members of the Department are trained for both fire and ambulance work. Morgan said that he isn't trained for ambulance work, but he can administer CPR and drive an ambulance. Officers of the Fire Department are the Fire Chief, Assistant Fire Chief, Fire Captain, and three Lieutenants.
"When a call comes in," said Morgan, "the response team consists of the officer in charge, the driver, and two crew members in jump seats who will be doing the 'first attack' on the fire. Everyone has their gear and air packs on before they leave the station. They stay with the truck until the officer tells them what to do. Depending on what is known, because information may be coming over the radio, the officer may instruct them in route to the fire."
All inhabitants must he cleared from the area. "Two fire fighters enter the structure to attack the fire," Morgan continued, "while others are outside doing ventilation. That consists of opening windows - if necessary they'll break them out or cut a hole in the roof. The purpose is to remove heated gases and smoke. The ventilation has to be done simultaneousty with the inside attack on the fire. If you ventilate before you get water on the fire, the oxygen will cause the fire to burn more intensely."
Another crew stands by outside to back up the interior crew for safety in case anything goes wrong. There is a crew to do salvage and overhaul, covering the furniture and other items to prevent or minimize water damage.
"Being a volunteer firefighter is a big commitment," noted Morgan, "because you must be available for emergencies. Beside that, there are hours of training. It seems like there is always a new type of training coming out that the State mandates you have to have, and the time it takes for the training is all volunteer time."
"You spend a lot of time in fund-raising, too," Morgan added. "Lots of effort goes into that because we don't get much State or County funding. Many people don't realize that part of it when they volunteer."
Volunteers aren't required to commit themselves to a specific number of number of hours a month, but the Department's constitution does call for a certain number of meetings to be attended and calls to be answered to be considered an active member. Right now there are 40-50 active members, and more on the roster. Morgan noted that a lot of Shepherd students volunteer.
"People call the Fire Department for all kinds of things," said Morgan. "They call us when they don't know who else to call."
He affirmed that they do get calls to get cats out of trees and they will do it. His most unusual rescue was a cow stuck in a hay rack. "The cow had her two front feet caught in one of those racks that holds the big round bails," said Morgan, "and the farmer couldn't get her out. So we went and got the cow out of there!"
Morgan described his most memorable fire-fighting event. "It was before I even became a member." He pointed to his son, Zachery. "I was about his age, 12 or 13 years old. I used to go on calls with my dad. Zachery goes with me, too. He can go if I use my personal car, but when I was a kid I could go on the equipment."
"Anyway," he continued, "I went on a call to the lower part of town with my parents' secretary - my dad was already there. They were short of help at the scene. There was a front-mounted pumper and my dad showed me how to run the pump by running the throttle on the truck. I ran the pump for about 15 minutes. It was a great thrill for a kid. I had to run the throttle, watch the guage and if Dad hollered, hit a red button!"
last updated Feb. 28, 2000