More than a firefighter

Keith Bost’s crew will spend one-third of its life in a fire department.

Waking up at the crack of dawn, Bost said his 61 paid and volunteer firefighters, rescuers and paramedics may be the “only people in Catawba County that work 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. without sitting down or
taking a lunch break."

They work 24 hours on, then 48 hours off, and Bost said there’s rarely a time when the men of Sherrills Ford Fire and Rescue aren’t training, drafting fire plans or testing hydrants, hoses or vehicles.

And that’s all just before the emergency call alarm sounds.

A “model” fire station, Bost said Sherrills Ford is unique in that it houses three different services instead of solely fire rescue.

“We’re the only fire department in Catawba County that provides fire, rescue and medical calls,” Bost said. “We’ll run anything.”

Bost said that combining services not only makes responding more efficient, but saves the department money as well. If there is a structure fire, for example, Sherrills Ford can dispatch a fire truck, rescue squad and paramedics all out of the same station instead of from different areas. This saves the need to have "duplication of services" in the area.

This cost and time-effective practice is starting to catch on in the county, as Hickory Fire Department will receive training from Sherrills Ford representatives later this month, Bost said.

But more service requires more training, which Bost said is his station's top priority, besides responding to calls.

Just to be eligible for a paid position at Sherrills Ford, Bost requires 656 total hours of N.C. firefighter 1, Haz-Mat operations, technical rescuer and emergency medical technician courses. Because Bost can't afford a training academy like some larger departments, he pushes department volunteers to meet his qualification requirements.

"We don't have the money to hire someone straight off the street and do a rookie school, so we look for volunteers with qualifications," Bost said.

Capt. Dickie Harris leads most training for Sherrills Ford and has been with the department for three years.

"Training is the biggest part of our day-to-day mission, so when you get on the scene you can perform at a higher level," Harris said. "But really, there's no better training than a live fire situation."

In addition to the training Bost requires, there are additional courses his staff can take, such as technical rescuer specialties, driver operator pumps, fire life safety educator and National Fire Academy training and tactics.

In total, Bost estimates that most of his paid workers have about 1,328 hours of training under their belt.

Heavy training, in addition to several other factors, can also save area citizens money.

Like all fire departments, Sherrills Ford helps set homeowners insurance rates in the area. So, the more training, apparatus maintenance, pre-fire plans, and utility testing the department does, the lower area citizens will pay for insurance.

In recent years, Sherrills Ford's insurance rating dropped from a 9 to a 6, helping town residents pay $175 less, Bost said.

Regardless of the amount of training the department does, however, Bost said there is nothing like responding to a real fire.

"The toughest part about being a firefighter is dealing with what you encounter on calls," Bost said. "Two weeks ago, I saw five people dead in the same week."

Harris agreed.

"Dealing with people's bad misfortunes is tough," Harris said. "We do a lot, though, with a little bit of manpower."

But Bost said no matter how greusome or disturbing a scene is, you have to "power through it."

"At some point, training will take over and you just power through it," Bost said. "That's why we do it."