06/12/12 — Firefighting program marks end of 1st year

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Firefighting program marks end of 1st year

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 12, 2012 2:26 PM

As a boy, whenever a fire truck would pass through the neighborhood -- siren blaring and lights flashing -- Travis Sauls would get a rush of excitement.

He even entertained dreams that he, like an uncle who was a volunteer fireman, might be able to be a firefighter himself one day.

But it wasn't until he took part in a program offered this year at Goldsboro High School that the 16-year-old says he gained the confidence to pursue it.

"I have the strength, the ability to carry all the tools around," says the football player.

More than that, though, it just may be his ticket to a promising future.

"There's a lot of people in my neighborhood selling drugs," the freshman said. "I want to make an example, show them that I can be somebody. I want my mom and dad to be proud of me."

Goldsboro Fire Chief Gary Whaley said the idea for the educational and mentoring program actually originated a couple years ago at the downtown fire station.

His assistant chief, Lisa Johnson, spearheaded the effort, enlisting Capt. Bernard Patterson and others in the department to collaborate with Communities in Schools and GHS in offering the emergency services program as part of a weekly "Cougar Enrichment" segment.

About 30 students participated.

Travis said he was impressed with the array of things the group taught the students -- from basic information about requirements to be a firefighter and different trucks and hoses to how to conduct a house search during a fire and demonstrating the "jaws of life" on aluminum soda cans.

"It looks easy but it's not," Jeffrey Martinez, a sophomore at the school, said of the job.

The 16-year-old admitted that before meeting the firefighters, he hadn't considered it as a career option.

It didn't take long for him to have a change of heart.

"Everybody has to have a goal in life," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about you giving back to the community. It's about you making wise choices."

Freshman Shamequa Hill said she also appreciated the sessions.

"I like to do the activities. It's fun. I like learning about the history behind it," she said. "I feel like any woman can do anything that a man can do."

She said she hopes the program continues to be offered at the school.

Officials -- from the fire department, the city of Goldsboro, Communities in Schools, the school district and even Wayne Community College -- have all expressed support for expanding the program.

"We have had a wonderful partnership with the Goldsboro Fire Department and Goldsboro High School," said Selena Bennett, executive director of Communities in Schools, during a year-end celebration Monday afternoon at the fire station.

In addition to continuing the program at GHS in the fall, there is discussion about another fire station sending mentors to an elementary school, a possible fire academy in the future or encouraging students to take a fire certification class.

An Explorer Post -- similar to the Boy Scout program, with an emphasis on emergency services -- is being introduced this summer. The Goldsboro Police Department has had one for years, Mrs. Johnson said, but it will be a first for Goldsboro Fire Department.

"Right now, we will meet the first and third Monday nights," she said of the youth-led program. An organizational meeting will take place Monday at 6 p.m. at the Center Street station. "We'll give them some positions, youth leadership positions, and talk to them about what they'll be learning about."

Whaley said such offerings are beneficial not only for the youths but for the community.

"I think emergency services is one of the greatest careers there is," he said. "Especially in the city of Goldsboro, our youth are not exposed to careers like this.

"My staff has enjoyed this. They have kind of created history here. It's the first group to really carry this forward."