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Volunteer firefighters test skills during Annual Emergency Driving Course

Emergency Vehicle Operators Course instructor Kenneth McQueen takes notes during a recent driving test held at the Johnson County High School. Basic fundamental driving is an integral part of a list of skills and should be discussed early on in any firefighter’s career.  Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

Johnson County houses nine volunteer fire departments, including Butler, Doe, Dry Run, Laurel (First District), Mountain City, Neva, Second District, Shady Valley, and Trade. While the volunteer spirit is noble, a fire station filled with a group of self-sacrificing, giving, caring, and duty-oriented men and women do not necessarily mean safety, effectiveness, or efficiency.  

A recent online article by Fire Rescue 1 mentioned “any fire department, career or volunteer, must have fire apparatus operators that possess the most rudimentary driving skills and can perform them safely. Basic fundamental driving should be discussed early on in any firefighter’s career ensuring that they understand what is acceptable and what is not.”

With the Shady Valley Volunteer Fire Department, Captain Kenneth McQueen, a nearly 40-year veteran, is one of the instructors that oversaw the county’s annual Emergency Vehicle Operators Course.To prove their skills and rightful place behind the wheel of a fire truck, dozens of local volunteer firefighters representing the various local county volunteer fire departments took a turn on the course set up at the Johnson County High School last Saturday. The driving test was a follow-up to an eight-hour in-class course (ten hours for new drivers) and, according to McQueen, a well-executed outcome.

“I am very pleased with all the drivers that we have tested so far today,” he said. “The annual test dose a lot more than fulfills the state-required testing. It gives the guys some confidence. So it is more than just being legal, it’s about being ready for the task.”  

Sadly, the challenge of having qualified drivers on duty becomes greater as fewer firefighters come to the job, having had at least some experience driving a heavy truck. Of course, staffing is an issue, especially when every department within the county is made up of local volunteers forcing each department to do the best they can with what they have. It places firefighters at risk and the public they serve.

McQueen acknowledged that with the county’s ongoing population growth, the volunteers’ workload, not to mention the need cut down on time it takes to respond to emergencies across difficult terrain, fulltime, paid, fully-staffed stations would be a significant improvement. 

However, for now, Johnson County residents are very grateful for the hard work of all of their willing, caring volunteer firefighters. For more information and contact information for local fire departments, check their Facebook pages.