Roanoke County Fire and Rescue and the Fire Marshal’s Office sponsored their 13th annual Character Academy on July 26-28 to enable students to experience what it’s like to be a first responder.
Brian Clingenpeel, Community Outreach Coordinator for Roanoke County Fire and EMS, describes the event as “a day camp for middle school aged students that teaches positive character traits like teamwork and compassion while also giving in-depth insight into the world of emergency services professions.”
Its purpose is to help students “develop character alongside people of character in our community, such as the fine men and women of the fire and rescue profession,” and also to have some fun. About 28 students registered for the program this summer.
Organizers hope that taking part in the camp will lead some of the students to consider careers as firefighters or to become much-needed volunteers.
Several students from Vinton schools participated; some had attended in past years. William Byrd Middle School eighth grader Grace Altice was back for her third year. She is the daughter of Roanoke County Fire and EMS Battalion Chief of Emergency Medical Services Donald Altice and the granddaughter of former Vinton Town Councilman Bobby Altice, who has volunteered with the Vinton First Aid Crew serving the community for about 60 years. Her sister Natalie, a fifth grader at W. E. Cundiff Elementary, was attending Character Academy for the first time.
Participant Peyton Walker will also be an eighth grader at the middle school; Payton Wall will be a sixth grader. Maddy Simmons, daughter of Roanoke County Fire Marshal Brian Simmons, will be in seventh grade; this is her third year at the Character Academy.
Devon Foutz, who will be in seventh grade at WBMS attended camp for the first time. His father is Vinton Firefighter/Medic John Foutz. Devon says his father began emergency services work when he was 16 years old and told him about this year’s camp. Devon would also like to become a firefighter.
On the opening day of Character Academy, the campers spent the morning at the Fort Lewis Fire and EMS facility. They toured the fire station and learned what firefighters and rescue workers do. They “got up close and hands-on with fire trucks and ambulances.” They hooked up an actual fire hose to a fire hydrant and then a fire truck, and practiced spraying as a team.
Clingenpeel said, “We explored the ladder truck, the fire station and flowing water from a fire hose that we attached to a hydrant, learning about the gear, equipment, and vehicles that firefighters and paramedics use throughout the day to keep them and the community safe.”
Thursday morning was spent at the Roanoke Valley Regional Fire and EMS Training Center on Kessler Mill Road in Salem. The campers learned CPR and got to descend a zipline down from the top of the five-story fire training tower. They also navigated the maze simulating a smoke-filled building. They worked in pairs for most of the activities as firefighters do in real life.
The camp stresses team building. Students learn that it takes a group effort to fight a fire. Just one person can’t hook up the hose to the fire hydrant or control a powerful fire hose to fight a fire.
The academy concluded with a tour of the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center, graduation, and a fun day of swimming.
Personnel from Roanoke County Fire and Rescue and the Fire Marshal’s Office instructed the students during the Character Academy activities. All of the activities incorporated lessons of character.
The cost for the annual camp is $30; application is made online each spring. Ages 10-14 from all Roanoke County middle schools are eligible to attend.
Clingenpeel said, “Fun and education is the goal of our Character Academy.” Youth learn about the fire service, safety, and have some summer fun.