Alabama Power volunteer firefighters strive to save lives, homes in communities
It’s all in a day’s work – and then some – for Alabama Power employees who put their lives on the line as volunteer firefighters.
The calls run the gamut, from fighting fires at homes and businesses to fielding medical emergencies that range from saving choking victims and rescuing people in car wrecks to giving life-saving glucose injections. Volunteers perform CPR and respond to fires, drownings and other crises. Many company employees don firefighter helmets after they leave their full-time jobs for the day.
That’s the case with Ann Marie Smith, a Plant Miller chemical technician who has volunteered at McCollum-Midway Volunteer Fire and Rescue in Jasper for three years. Smith talked with Chief David Blanton, a materials coordinator at Alabama Power’s Fayette Crew Headquarters, about joining his 20-member volunteer team.
Smith answers medical calls about people who have stopped breathing or who have chest pain, drownings and chokings, as well as fires. As a member of Miller’s Medical Response Team, Smith has honed her keen abilities for handling emergencies.
“We often do whatever we can before an ambulance arrives, basic life-saving measures such as CPR, taking vital signs for blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen levels and other basic conditions,” said Smith, who is studying for dual master’s degrees in public health and business administration at UAB.
She and fellow firefighters ensure everyone wears personal protective equipment, such as heat-resistant clothing, air packs and gloves.
Early this year, Smith was the first responder at a car wreck in Walker County. She ran down a steep ditch to rescue an older motorist, whose car was laying on its side.
“I was pretty much sitting on top of the car to pull this man out of his car,” said Smith, who has used metal cutters and spreaders to remove trapped passengers. “The windows would not roll down. We busted out the front door passenger window and used a windshield saw to get him out of the car.”
The team carefully removed the man, who occasionally cried out in pain.
“He was conscious, so he told us what hurt,” she said. “We put him on a backboard. You’ve got to try to protect the neck and back, in case someone has an injury. He was in critical condition and had pre-existing medical conditions.”
Smith and the team took the man to a large, open space in a nearby church parking lot. They quickly set up lights for a medivac helicopter to land. Because they didn’t know the victim, there was no way to learn about his progress.
“Sometimes people will come by and thank us,” Smith said. “It’s a good feeling to know you helped someone, whether it was calming them down while their house was burning or rescuing them from a mangled car. It’s great being able to keep your community safe and keep yourself safe while doing it. We want to do everything we can to see the community continue to flourish.”
Other Plant Miller volunteer firefighters include Assistant Plant Control Operator Andy Marbutt for Bear Creek Fire Department and Safety Specialist Brandon Williams for Crane Hill Communities Volunteer Fire and EMS in Cullman County. Gaston Plant Auxiliary Reid Ezekiel, Mechanic Brent Hughes, Materialman Ricky Morris and Compliance Specialist Philip Willis serve, as well as Henry Hydro Journeyman Daniel Morrison.
Company volunteers include Field Service Representative (FSR) Wayne Flowers; Montgomery Crew Lineman Adam Brasher; Dadeville Apprentice Lineman Paul Chayka; Selma Distribution Specialist Allen Kendrick; and Montgomery Office FSR Kyle Lawrence.
Saving lives and families, in more ways than one
Shanon Graham was 16 and attending Glencoe High School when he became a junior fireman for Glencoe Fire Department. Two years later, Graham took the exam to be a professional firefighter, but instead went to work at Alabama Power, where he is a master technician for the Utility Fleet at Anniston Crew Headquarters. It’s not unusual for Graham to spend weekends and after-work hours fighting fires.
For example, instead of relaxing at home one Saturday night, he took a 10:30 p.m. call to extinguish a vehicle fire: a car had burst into flames on Old Highway 431 in Glencoe.
“We run so many fires and wrecks. We do about 900 calls a year, with medical and fire,” said Graham, a fire lieutenant for 20 years. “I attend to quite a few calls each month. Whenever I’m available and not at the power company, I try to help. It’s a full-time job.”
Graham is a certified 160 firefighter, which signifies he completed 160 hours of training through the Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission in less than 24 months.
“I do medical calls, too,” said Graham, who earned a medic license in 2000. “If someone calls in with a heart attack, I go. I’m a first responder now. We do a lot of extraction of vehicles and help mentor the younger guys, instructing them on what to do to avoid getting hurt. We’ve got to be as safe as possible all the time, just like we do at Alabama Power.”
Graham’s 24 years volunteering with Glencoe Fire Department goes beyond lifesaving. He helps organize and takes part in the department’s annual Christmas for Kids program to benefit Etowah County children. Teaming up with his wife, Kristie, Graham raises as much as $12,000 a year through cooking events. He spends about 25 Saturdays a year traveling the Southeast to competitions.
“Kristie and I compete in barbecue and steak competitions,” Graham said. In May, the couple raised $3,500 in a steak cook-off at Glencoe City Park to fund Christmas for Kids.
“Just being able to help my community means a lot to me,” Graham said. “Everybody should be involved somehow, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve always enjoyed it.”
Helping others is family affair
Firefighting is a family affair for Phillip Moman, Information Technology manager at Farley Nuclear Plant in Dothan. Moman recalls asking his then-4-year-old son about joining the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department.
“Gaither said, ‘That would be fun, daddy,’” Moman said, chuckling in remembrance. “That’s how I got started. It was a blast then, and I still enjoy it.”
Moman and one of his best friends, Plant Farley Refueling Manager Mark Kelley, joined the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) the same day, and are senior captains. Farley Emergency Preparedness Specialist John Perkins serves alongside Moman and Kelley in the Ashford Fire Department while Instrumentation and Controls Mechanic Jonathan Nall is assistant chief in the Cowarts Volunteer Fire Department.
Throughout the years, Moman and the Ashford VFD have worked hundreds of car wrecks, which spurred him to obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) license in 1996. He now averages 20 to 25 hours a month training and responding to incidents.
“Going to wrecks and handling other situations, you want to know how to help people,” said Moman, who spent 13 years in the EMT role. “It went a long way, because I was there to treat people in all kinds of emergencies. You never know when you’ll need that knowledge. You train enough to where things become second nature.”
Moman and his fellow firefighters average eight hours a month in training and help instruct younger firefighters. Ashford’s 25-member team meets every other week to train on apparatus operation, hazardous materials, extraction and other fire-related emergencies.
“Training is one of the most important aspects of the fire service. For instance, you never know how a person is going to react with lights and sirens blaring,” Moman said.
While some months are busier than others, Moman said seasonal fires aren’t unexpected.
“If it’s real dry, we’ll have a lot of grass fires,” he said. “The first cold spells of the winter bring more house fires from overloaded extension cords and portable heaters.”
After serving more than 20 years, Moman is proud that his sons followed in his footsteps. Gaither Moman, 28, volunteers at Pike Road Fire Department in Montgomery County, and Parker Moman, 24, serves at Ashford with his dad.
“It’s a good feeling to see their willingness to help others,” Moman said.
Father’s service inspires son to help fire departments
Fighting fires is nothing new to Trae Caton. The longtime volunteer has served the Clanton Fire Department, helps the Chilton County Emergency Management Agency and was the assistant chief at Cedar Grove Fire Department. Caton was inspired by his father, who volunteered at the Clanton Fire Department.
“To serve as a member of Clanton Fire Department, you must be a state licensed EMT and certified as a firefighter through Alabama Fire College,” said Caton, regulatory compliance analyst for Fleet Services. “I followed in my dad’s footsteps for more than 10 years.”
Caton will never forget New Year’s Day 2018, when a fuel tanker crashed and overturned on Interstate 65.
“The trucker fell asleep and crashed in the median,” he said. “Developing a plan to mitigate that situation and call in the proper resources was hairy.”
Caton called for assistance from multiple Chilton County fire departments, along with Calera and Clanton fire departments. He coordinated with hazardous materials teams to attend during removal of 8,000 gallons of gasoline. The fuel had to be pumped out so the truck could be towed.
“That was the scariest part,” said Caton, who supervised with a wary eye remembering when he’d witnessed a tanker explode following a similar crash.
“There were more than 50 people on the scene, and their safety was my responsibility. We were there more than 10 hours. The tanker remained intact and we didn’t have any spillage.”
“As time goes on, the more I realize how fortunate I am to work for Alabama Power Company, which gives me the ability to do something I love,” Caton said. “I plan to do it for as long as time allows.”
Braun’s early dreams came true
At 3 or 4 years old, Jimmie Braun took his first ride in a firetruck in Kansas City, Missouri. That trip “sealed the deal” for Braun, birthing his lifelong love of firefighting.
“They came to our school, and I got my first ride in that big old truck, seeing it and hearing the sirens,” said the Logan Martin Hydro journeyman. “I wanted to be a fireman when I was a little kid.”
Braun, a member of Alabama Power’s Emergency Response Team since 2014, is certified to use an automated external defibrillator and perform CPR.
“We go to training once a year at work and have once-a-month intensive training,” he said.
Braun helped save the life of another employee in 2015. While working at Plant Gaston in Wilsonville, Braun and four other employees performed CPR on a heart attack victim.
“We took turns doing CPR,” Braun said. “After 10 or 15 minutes, you’re plumb worn out. You don’t really have any concept of how time passes.”
Another time, a Gaston employee had a seizure and Braun provided first aid until paramedics arrived.
Braun has worked at Oakman Volunteer Fire Department and Shelby County Fire Department.
“My job is to keep you alive long enough for paramedics to get there,” he said.
“I go to wreck calls all the time and have to extricate people. We’ve had to use the Jaws of Life to remove people from cars 10 or 15 times. That’s actually cutting cars up on the side of the road.”
After training with Alabama Power’s Emergency Response and Confined Space Rescue teams – combined with specialized training from the fire departments – Braun can handle most emergencies.
“I’m fairly confident I can take care of my family, at least long enough to get them to the hospital,” said Braun, who has a 22-year-old son. “I’m very big on fire prevention. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your house, you need to get out, because you’ll be amazed at how quickly a house can go up in flames.”
Having seen firsthand the devastating effects of a house fire, Braun’s mission is to prevent the loss of lives, families and homes in his community.
“It’s a lot of fun getting out there, pulling hoses off the truck and spraying the water,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy your job to do it well. I don’t do it for fun or recognition.
“God has you do stuff for a reason,” Braun said. “God knows what’s going on, and he knows you need to be in this spot at this time.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)