Grit, stamina, determination -- training building blocks for City of Elizabethton firefighters

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   It takes a lot of grit, stamina, determination and specialized training to be a good firefighter. Only a chosen few make it through the strict selection process.
   That doesn't bother Brian Stevens, a 1994 graduate of Hampton High School, to be called "rookie" on the Elizabethton Fire Department (EFD). The third time was charm, however, after twice being turned down in the selection process.
   Brian joined the Hampton Fire Department in 1998. Two years later, he joined the EFD after completing entrance requirements.
   To be accepted in the department, Brian had to pass a medical examination and score 70 or better on written and physical agility tests, including dragging a dummy weighing 175 pounds a distance of 100 feet. The fire hose, depending upon the size hose, may weigh 15 to 30 pounds with brass ends.
   Next, he faced a structured interview board. Afterwards, the fire chief and assistant fire chief interviewed the top 10 candidates.
   There is not much turnover of department personnel, according to Fire Chief Mike Shouse, who is completing his 25th year with the department. Four members of the department have 28 years service.
   The department has 33 firefighters who staff three fire stations in the city. In a typical year, they respond to an average of 375-390 calls in a 10 square mile area of the City Limits.
   EFD has seven trucks, including five pumpers, one aerial/ladder truck usually seen in the Christmas Parade, and a one-ton, 4-wheel drive truck used for brush fires.
   Only the most senior firefighters, called engineers, get to drive the fire trucks, Chief Shouse said. There are five engineers per shift, he added.
   Brian is still "learning the ropes," so to speak at EPD. Thus far, he has completed a 10-week rookie school, conducted twice a year at the Johnson City Fire Department for firefighters in Elizabethton, Johnson City, Bristol, Erwin, Morristown and Greeneville. Instructors are provided by area fire departments
   Brian is also receiving hands-on training, daily, from Elizabethton Fire Department personnel. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts for three days and are off four days. That works out to 110 days a year.
   Firefighters sleep and eat at the fire hall. Breakfast is the specialty of the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. Firefighters are not allowed to get into their bunks to sleep until 10 p.m. each night. Their sleep may be interrupted, any hour of the night, with a fire alarm.
   "The brotherhood of firefighters is like family. It is comforting to know that your colleagues will back you up in any situation when your life is on the line. I hope to make firefighting a career," Brian said.
   Brian said he first became interested in firefighting in the winter of 1983, when, at age eight years of age, his family's house burned down. "My focus now is on the best route to take in responding to fire calls."
   Today, Brian serves as assistant chief of the Hampton Volunteer Fire Department. His brother, Chris, is also a member.
   The State of Tennessee Fire Commission awards certificates to those completing requirements for Firefighter I classification. Candidates must pass a 100-question exam and hands-on testing, as well. After one year, Firefighter I can challenge the test for Firefighter II, Chief Shouse said.
   Deputy Chief Jim Hartley is the training officer at the Elizabethton Fire Department. Capt. Barry Carrier is the fire marshal.
   Anyone interested in applying for a position with the Elizabethton Fire Department may obtain an application at the Office of City Manager at City Hall. Once a year, in July, entry testing is held.