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Training top priority at firehouse in Caroline

The members of the Bowling Green Volunteer Fire Department will tell you they work so well together because they think of each other as family.

That comes in handy when they’re responding to calls, preparing their annual banquet dinner and hanging around the firehouse when they’re on duty.

But what sets the station aside from the others in the county, they say, is their attitude toward training.

The more they do—before they even touch a fire hose—the more prepared they are to respond to fires.

And once they become full members of the station, the training doesn’t stop.

“The fire service is ever-changing,” said Jason Satterwhite, vice president of the department. “You can never become complacent, you always have to be on top of your game,” he said.

Members are constantly learning about new types of cars and building construction, which assists them when responding to crashes and structure fires.

To be able to run calls, members have to have completed two phases of firefighter training.

Together, the courses involve about 250 hours of training in topics such as basic operations, search and rescue, the science behind fire, ventilation, water supply, how to use ladders, how to operate a fire hose, knots, fire detection and alarm, loss control, fire scene protection, communications and basic medical care.

They also have to have 36 hours of hazardous materials operations training—which means learning how to work with chemicals and materials that are poisonous or hazardous, such as gases, chlorine, propane, and acids.

In Bowling Green, members are encouraged to take at least both phases of training and the basic emergency medical technician course within their first 18 months with the department.

Each member is required to work 20 hours per month at the station.

Shifts are either four hours or 12 hours long.

The 40-or-so members are a wide range of ages from 16 to mid-40s, and many start their training in high school.

Caroline High School previously offered a training program that let students take firefighter and EMT classes as part of their regular course load.

Training for volunteers is usually paid for by the state and the county, but anything not paid for through those two options is paid for by the department.

There’s also a county-wide training school held over a weekend in April open to all the members of the county’s stations and rescue squads.

In Bowling Green, as the members get more training, they move up the ladder in the station.

Firefighters start as a “probie,” meaning they are on probation until they’ve spent at least six months with the station. Then they become a firefighter, and ride in the back of the truck and do “grunt work.” That could include cleaning the trucks and making sure they have all the right equipment on them and helping out with station duties.

Then they can become a driver, which involves operating a fire truck and the tools.

After that, they can become an officer and be in charge of the crew, the station and the truck.

Aaron Monroe, 19, says he wants to make a career out of being a firefighter. He said he started with an EMT class in 10th grade and then did a ride along. After he went on his first call with the department, he was hooked.

Ashby Storke has been with the station for about two years.

His brother volunteered with a department in Spotsylvania and he decided to try it out for himself.

He was one of the responders to the fire in Colonial Beach that ravaged the former high school, on Jan. 5.

“It was the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” he said.

They got there about 4 a.m., and attacked the front side of the building for about a half hour. They spent at least eight hours on the scene, he said.

He, too, wants to make a career out of being a firefighter.

Anthony Childress, 20, has volunteered with the county for three and a half years.

He started when he was 16 at Sparta’s station and transferred to Bowling Green in November 2012.

Though he liked Sparta, he feels at home in Bowling Green.

“It was probably once I started coming around, I realized how involved they were with the community,” he said.

He says Bowling Green gets a higher call volume because of its central location in the county.

Caroline County has six fire stations and two rescue stations who respond to approximately 6,000 emergency calls per year, according to the fire department’s website.

The fleet is made up of 55 emergency vehicles and provides EMS transports to approximately 2,300 patients a year to hospitals in both the Fredericksburg and Richmond regions.

There are about 200 volunteers and about 40 career firefighters in the county.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413