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Character Academy is All About Team

A volunteer helps Austin Shrewsbury, 12, hang on to a fire hose during a water demonstration.
A volunteer helps Austin Shrewsbury, 12, hang on to a fire hose during a water demonstration.

Teamwork was the character-building skill most readily experienced by 23 youths who attended the Roanoke County Fire & Rescue Annual Character Academy last week. Children from all over the valley and as far away as Danville and Gretna converged on the Hollins Station to participate in firefighting activities. The kids learned about firefighting gear, watched the ladder go up and down on a ladder truck, and attempted to open a fire hydrant and hold a fire hose.

This was the event’s fifth year, said Brian Clingenpeel, Public Educator for Roanoke County. Roanoke City mom Teri McIntyre snapped pictures of her son Derek as he took part in the event. She hopes he would retain some of the character lessons he learned.

“Being a boy, I thought he’d like the fire trucks,” she said.

McIntyre likes the Character Counts program (from the Valley Character organization) because it reinforces what she teaches at home. “They don’t pay attention to mom,” she said.

Derek, 10, called the event “awesome” and said he is considering a career as a fireman after learning about the tools used in firefighting and rescue.

“They use these long hooks to bring down fires and axes to bust down the doors, and saws in the roof to let the smoke out,” he explained.

Sadi Gilbert, 10, lives in Roanoke County and was as excited to see former classmates as she was to be learning about ladders and gear. “But I’m learning a lot,” she promised.

Several teenagers who volunteer with Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Public Education were on hand to assist too. Jessica Dean and Rachel Gilbert, both 16, said they liked helping out at various events. They sometimes even dress up as Spot, a Dalmatian mascot.

The young people filled the county’s busiest station with laughter and many questions. Firefighter Craig Sellers, Jr. demonstrated fire gear on a hot day, pulling the heavy coat, pants and boots off and on so various groups of youngsters could get a taste of what he goes through every time the alarm bell sounds.

Other events included water games and experiencing a fire or tornado in the Fire and Severe Weather Safety Simulator.

“It’s a privilege to have this at our station this year,” Roanoke County Fire Captain Mike Unroe said of the event.  “We’re teaching them about teamwork.”

Character Counts is a character education program used in schools to promote the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. All of these attributes can be found in emergency services, the children learned, because the teamwork that makes fire and rescue companies function well requires all of those qualities.

By Anita Firebaugh
[email protected]

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