Honor Guard Has Roots in Tyler County
There are many interacting pieces that work together to form a solid community. A strong community needs a good government, a good school system, and law enforcement. Guidance and education are, without a doubt, essential to setting a good foundation for a place to reside.
Also essential, though often overlooked, are the firemen. These men and women are on the front lines, fighting house fires, car fires, brush fires, and even forest fires. What many people are unaware of is the close working relationship between the fireman and the State Foresters.
In 2016, Tyler County mourned the loss of Alma firefighter Gary Patterson. Attending the funeral service for Patterson was Forester Jon Wilson. Wilson was honored when he was asked to participate in the service by carrying Patterson’s helmet during the ceremony.
This event prompted Wilson to propose the idea of a statewide Honor Guard. The Honor Guard is composed of ten Foresters from all around the state who travel to funerals to honor firefighters. The Honor Guard will also travel to parades and community events to present the colors.
The tight knit working relationship between Foresters and firefighters is not always known. In fact, Foresters fight forest fires alongside these firefighters and work closely with volunteer fire departments. Firefighters are the personnel the Foresters use to fight forest and brush fires.
Wilson is the Forester in both Tyler and Doddridge Counties. He reports he has a great working relationship with Tyler County firemen and first responders. He emphasized these volunteers give a professional response for free.
These men and women are not paid to be volunteer firefighters. “We’re fortunate we have people responding that know how to fight structure fires, pull people out of vehicles, and assist EMS personnel,” commented Wilson. “They respond with enthusiasm and professionalism.”
Many people may not understand the importance of teaching children and adults ways to prevent forest fires from breaking out, especially within Tyler County. The public doesn’t often see these things because the Foresters and the firefighters are so proactive in extinguishing the fire. The quick responses from these individuals allow the fire to be put out before it grows larger.
Wilson also notes the importance the dispatchers play in taking care of issues before they become larger problems. “When they get that call, they have to get information through the confusion and panic,” Wilson said, noting that some of the callers on the other side are experiencing the worst day of their lives. Dispatchers not only take calls for fires, they also have to multi-task, taking calls for law enforcement and EMS, as well. “This county is very lucky to have professional dispatchers,” noted Wilson.
West Virginia Foresters also travel to fight forest fires that occur out west. Wilson reports there are about twenty Foresters who volunteer to go on a three week tour to fight forest fires. He says they have fought fires as large as Tyler County, and although we don’t typically see fires that large in West Virginia, the Foresters have a lot of experience fighting wildfires.
Summer is almost upon us, and with that we have entered the fire season that stretches from March 1 to May 31. Throughout this time, it is illegal to burn between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wilson reports people often assume fires are more likely to get away from a person during the Summer months because it is the hottest time of the year. However, this is a common misconception and has nothing to do with air temperature, but rather what is on the ground. Wilson says everything is green in the Summer and it is less likely to burn.
There are important measures that must be taken to safely burn during fire season according to the WV Division of Forestry website. These precautions include: all fires must have a ring or safety strip; the safety strip itself must be cleared of burnable material and be at least 10 feet wide, fully encompassing the debris pile; fire must be attended until completely extinguished; only vegetative materials such as leaves, brush, and yard clippings are permitted to be burnt.
If one violates the law, it is a Forester’s job to write a citation for the violation. Fines for forest fires due to negligence range from $100 to $1,000 with additional civil penalty of $200.
It is evident the relationship the Foresters, firefighters, and dispatchers have with each other is an integral part of a community. They work hard to keep our counties safe, risking their lives to save ours.