|Graduates of SCC’s recent Fire Academy include, front row, from left (with hometowns and home fire departments in parenthesis): Concheta DeHart (Cherokee, Cherokee FD); Autumn Mathis (Franklin, West Macon VFD); Rachel Crawford (Franklin, Cowee VFD); Brooklynn Burt (Franklin, Cowee VFD); and Robert Bob Golding (Franklin, Cowee VFD). Back row: Samuel Gibson (Hayesville, Clay County FD); Dylan Saunooke (Cherokee, Cherokee VFD); Tevin Smoker, (Snowbird/Robbinsville, Cherokee FD); Taylor Parrish (Highlands, Highlands VFD); and Chebon PostOak (Cherokee, Cherokee VFD). Not pictured is Jacob Bingham of Franklin and the West Macon VFD.|
For years, conversations in Concheta DeHart’s family have gravitated toward the topic of extinguishing flames since both her brothers (Travis and Ryan) and her father (Eddie) are firemen.
So after undergoing gastric bypass surgery and dropping 172 pounds, DeHart figured this spring would be a good time to experience firefighting for herself.
She signed up for Southwestern Community College’s Fire Academy in March, and – after 572 hours of intense hands-on training and classwork – she became part of its second graduating class last month.
“I always wanted to know what it’s like to go into a burning building and help people,” said DeHart, who lives in Birdtown on the Qualla Boundary and volunteers at the Cherokee Fire Department. She’s also a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.
“I learned a lot in the academy,” DeHart added. “Fighting fires is about a lot more than putting wet stuff on hot stuff. There are so many things that if you do them wrong, you’ll hurt yourself or someone else.”
Showing trainees the right way to fight fire was the goal of Travis Scruggs, Southwestern’s fire and rescue training coordinator, and all the Fire Academy’s instructors.
This year’s academy was held in the evenings rather than daytime to accommodate the trainees’ schedules.
Scruggs said all 11 students who started the program finished it.
“By having a night academy, we tried to make it more user-friendly for volunteer firefighters who are trying to make this a career,” Scruggs said. “It allows them to still work in the daytime and still attend the academy in the evenings.”
Both DeHart and Brooklynn Burt agreed that the physical aspect of the training was the most difficult.
“There were only four girls, so we had to stick together,” said Burt, a Franklin resident who volunteers at the Cowee Fire Department but hopes to make a profession out of firefighting. “As a woman, the firefighting challenge was the hardest part. There were nine different courses like hose dragging, dummy dragging, the hose hoist, chopping wood with an ax. The written test was no problem for me.”
Besides the camaraderie with classmates, DeHart said instructors’ encouragement helped her get through the more difficult aspects of training.
She also learned techniques for dragging that work best for females.
Best of all, she’s now part of the conversation when she gets together with her father and brothers.
“I think they’re very proud of me,” DeHart said. “My dad talks about his firefighting kids all the time.
“Being a part of this academy has been one of the best experiences I have had,” she added. “The instructors are amazing men who love their work and enjoy teaching. I have been truly blessed to have been a part of this class and have built friendships that will last a life time.”
For more information about Southwestern’s Public Safety Training Center, call 828.306.7045 or visit www.southwesterncc.edu/content/public-safety-training.