MOUNT GILEAD — Village Fire Department Chief Chad Swank called Mount Gilead’s North Central Ohio Fire Training Academy a “hidden gem” in the village.
“The service of the fire department and fire training academy is one of the most overlooked assets in the county,” Swank said.
Swank spoke with Morrow County Commissioners recently and surprised them with the numbers the academy has seen go through firefighter training courses since 2008 when the academy was opened by Chief Don Staiger.
Not only does the North Central Fire Training Academy train and benefit Mount Gilead and Morrow County fire stations, surrounding counties also send firefighters from Marion, Crawford, Knox and Wyandot with the farthest coming from Licking, Union and Seneca counties.
Swank reports that a total of 350 went through the academy courses in the 10 years from 2008 to 2018. There are presently 23 completing the Firefighter I course. Six women are in the class, which is the largest group of women in any class so far.
The Firefighter I course represents 156 hours of class time with evening classes twice a week from 6-10 p.m. and one Saturday a month from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
“The only really hard thing about the course is the time it takes,” said firefighter trainee, Deb Prinkey. “It’s hard to work all day and then go to evening classes, but it’s not that far for me since I live in Fredericktown.
Prinkey teaches physics and geology at Mount Vernon High School and has her eye on serving as a firefighter as well.
Firefighters and instructors at the academy come from a wide variety of backgrounds and careers from truck drivers, EMTs, teachers and construction workers.
“We are here because we want to be here,” emphasized Aaron Wilcox.
Wilcox was recently promoted to captain at the Mount Gilead Fire Department and he’s working on his instructor’s certification through the academy. Wilcox’s main work is truck driving. He said he brings that experience to both repairing vehicles and driving fire trucks.
Tradition of volunteers
Assistant Chief Bruce Young said the strength of the Mount Gilead Fire Department is the tradition of service, preparedness and efficiency level the firefighters represent. Young and many others in the department are from a family of firefighters, with several generations serving the department.
“With the evolution of the academy, our personnel are at a high level of efficiency,” Young said.
Young recalled the days when HPM was in business. The company gladly encouraged workers to volunteer as firefighters and gave them time to be available and on call for the Mount Gilead Fire Department. As HPM closed, there were not enough volunteers available, so a levy went on the ballot and it became necessary to hire a full-time chief with part-time firefighters.
Young said that instructors have come into the department for a long time. Terry Webber from the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s office was one of the first and later Brian Skipworth was an instructor.
Staiger was instrumental in establishing the North Central Fire Training Academy with classes at the Mount Gilead Fire Department. This brought training for local firemen into the county.