Gap Fire Station continues flame-fighting tradition

Published 1:00 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It takes a certain kind of person to willingly breach a structure fire, to move forward into a burning building with nothing more than turnout gear between them and possible death by smoke and flame.

Those who make up the current roster of the Cumberland Gap Volunteer Fire Department are D-COM students who attend nearby Lincoln Memorial University. They spend their days, nights and weekends working towards a degree in medicine and every spare moment volunteering at the Fire Station. These students are highly trained individuals in the art of quenching fires. They’ve completed a 16-hour course to become certified and have taken on an additional 64 hours of training to gain their certification as an interior firefighter. They receive eight more hours of training to become EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operator Course) certified.

And that is not the end of the training. The team is required to complete additional weekly instruction as well.

Email newsletter signup

In 1978, the late John Adams hit on the idea to revamp a defunct service station, turning it into a highly respected fire department. Adams, who was a Gap native and longtime town councilman, moved mountains to make it happen.

What he started has remained intact with the help of industrious individuals who made sure the tradition Adams started would live on.

By 2013, there was a decided dwindling of the volunteer count. That’s when Brandon Wilkinson and Patrick Hurley, who were both D-COM students and experienced in firefighting, decided to do something about that and went about rebuilding the roster.

Wilkinson and Hurley created a plan that would involve the volunteering of LMU students. These students receive no university credits for their efforts – the program is outside the scope of LMU.

The numbers ticked upward and currently, some 40 men and women are cleared for active duty.

Gap Fire Chief James Ratliff, who is newly elected to the position, says the roster is full of like-minded individuals who want to serve their communities.

“Being a firefighter creates a real brotherhood. We train with the idea of using a buddy system. Safety’s a big thing with us. We’re not going to put ourselves in jeopardy unless it’s an absolute dire situation. And, fortunately, we’ve not had that.

“When the alarm goes off and we know we’re heading to a fire, our training kicks in and there’s a big adrenalin rush that happens. It becomes second nature and it’s all about the concern for those involved,” said Ratliff.

He says he plans to continue on as a firefighter wherever his clinical rotation may take him.

“You don’t know where they’re going to send you. Being here has put a real drive in me to continue serving my community in respect to firefighting and I think that’s the attitude of a lot of people here. You see them walking around with firefighter tee-shirts on that they didn’t have when they got here. There’s something about the fire service that really captures the imagination of a lot,” said Ratliff.

When not battling flames, the firefighters spend countless hours providing services to fundraisers and tending to the Kaitlyn Devries Memorial Dog Park, named in honor of the LMU Veterinary School student who tragically died in a car accident.

Ratliff explained the way in which LMU student volunteer firefighters are rotated.

“This thing has a quick turnover because, every year, it’s a new batch of students. So, we try to make the best that we can in one year. For us, there were 20 something that came in and then, you lose several who were serving the previous year. You stay at about 30 volunteers,” said Ratliff.

Anyone can volunteer, he said, including those with no previous training. Ratliff says he would like to see members of the community volunteer as well.

He says there is no age limit as long as you can handle the physicality of the job.

“It is physical. You’re climbing ladders. You’re doing search and rescue or dragging a hose.”

Fire Station officers under Ratliff are Assistant Chiefs Sarah Turley, Jordan Jones and Michael Zadeh; Captains Jake Dalton, Jacob Sheenan and Charlie Coste; along with Lieutenants Jake Corell, Delaney Griffin and Conner Fox.

The fire station’s next big fundraiser is slated for April 6, beginning at 5 p.m. at the new ‘1919’ Restaurant in the Gap. Ten percent of all sales will go toward the upkeep of the Cumberland Gap Volunteer Fire Department.

The Fire Station is dependent in large part to donations.

For more information, email Ratliff at: james.ratliff@lmu.net.edu.