When I met with Mayor Ronnie for this edition, I was treated to the additional presence of Acting Fire Chief Bryan Thornton and City Hall Communications Specialist Holly Hollman, (whose comments below will appear in italics.) The three of them were fresh off of a FEMA graded exercise that had been held at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, and the test scenario had to do with terrorism. I asked Bryan, “How’d we do?” “We did well,” he told me, although they don’t have their final FEMA grade back yet. “The departments all worked well together,” Bryan said, “and that is super important in that type of emergency.”
He went on to tell me how much firefighting had changed in the 20 years that he has been on the force, and how every firefighter has to be trained, certified and able to deal with all types of hazardous situations. “We have equipment now that can do everything from lift someone off a floor, to rescuing people using the ‘jaws of life,’ to a rough terrain vehicle that can get an injured person off one of our trails. Our fire trucks are now really a mobile station,” he said. He added, “What we can do is function as first responders until the ALS (Advanced Life Support) people get there, and be ready to go to the next emergency without having to go back to the station. It’s a big change from when I was doing EMS, and from when I first became a firefighter.”
Holly talked about some of the fun things firefighters get to do, some of which are coming up real soon:
“Athens firefighters work as Santa’s elves during the holiday season. The firefighters provide Santa transportation to local events such as Christmas Open House and the Lincoln-Bridgeforth Park Committee Tree Lighting Ceremony. Athens Fire and Rescue provides Santa a ride via fire truck instead of a sleigh.
At the tree lighting, firefighters and police help distribute toys and bicycles to children. The Lincoln-Bridgeforth Park Committee receives the names of children through agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to donations, the committee helps provide Christmas gifts to these children. By participating in the event, firefighters get to interact with the community, particularly the youth, and help share the Christmas spirit.
Firefighters also work as Santa’s elves through the Athens Fire and Rescue Auxiliary ‘Shop With A Firefighter’ program. Through fundraisers, the auxiliary provides Christmas to children submitted by local schools. These are children whose families need help in providing Christmas. The children pair up with a firefighter and shop for $100 worth of necessities, toys and clothes. The firefighters are often touched by the selflessness of these children, many of whom ask to purchase an item for another member of their family.”
Bryan mentioned that there is an increase in fires during the holidays due to space heaters, Christmas trees and deep fryers for turkeys. “We want people to be careful, and get heaters away from curtains and bed spreads, be sure to water your tree, and use your deep fryer properly.” He finished his visit with a heartfelt expression of satisfaction at being able to have a job where “you know at the end of the day you have made a difference.”
Mayor Ronnie added that “The excellence of our fire department, and how well Bryan, the battalion chiefs and all the firefighters are doing to help everyone from kids to the elderly is something we can be very thankful for and proud of.” Then Bryan and Holly got “back after it,” the Mayor and I prayed, and it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner