GREENVILLE — Ever since Marcus Roy can remember, he has had his hair cut by barber Jim Hopkins.
In the 20-plus years that they’ve visited each other for Roy’s regular appointments, the two have had countless conversations about Hopkins’ 24 years of experience as a firefighter for the Greenville Department of Public Safety (GDPS).
After listening intently to Hopkins’ stories of battling structure fires and rescuing victims from car accidents, all while remaining humble and continuing to work as a barber in the process, Roy decided that a similar path might work in his future.
Roy, a 2006 Greenville High School graduate and mill operator for Mersen, signed up to become a paid-on-call firefighter for the GDPS in August. He is now training through a Michigan fire academy with his best friend, Scott Cameron, who graduated from Greenville High School in 2003 and works as a mechanic at Ray Winnie Auto Sales.
On Thursday evening, both men participated along with several other firefighters in a extrication training exercise at Captain Hook’s Towing and Recovery in Greenville, courtesy of owner and former firefighter Dave Clifford.
The pair worked as a team with other firefighters, using tools on damaged cars that had been involved in real accidents, hoping to build a collaborative relationship for the future when they may be working at the scene of a real accident.
“This is something I’ve always been interested in,” Roy said. “You learn a lot working with these guys, it’s like a brotherhood.”
Cameron shared the same mentality and welcomed the opportunity to learn from veteran firefighters.
“I’ve always wanted to do it and Marcus and I have been best friends forever,” Cameron said. “These guys are here to teach you, they want you to learn.”
Sgt. Brian Blomstrom was running the training exercise and said the significance of training sessions cannot be stressed enough.
“The importance of these training scenarios is giving these guys the confidence to handle these situations when it’s really happening,” Blomstrom said. “They have the chance here to see what works and what doesn’t and so they’re not trying it for the first time on an actual emergency scene. The goal is for this to become second nature.”
Blomstrom had two separate teams of five firefighters working together on separate mock incidents. The newer firefighters handled a situation described as a car sliding off of the road and hitting a tree with the imaginary passengers trapped in the driver and front passenger seats.
The second scenario, run by Sgt. Darren Jones and involving veteran firefighters such as Hopkins, focused on a vehicle that had flipped on its side with the imaginary passengers still trapped inside the vehicle.
“We do this every year, especially in the fall so we can began preparing for the winter season when roads are more dangerous,” Blomstrom said. “Once they are trained on this, they can help us on scene. We won’t be having them during structure fires yet, but they can assist on accidents.”
Blomstrom said the recent addition of eight paid-on-call firefighters, of which there are 20 total at the department, has been a breath of fresh air as most of them are young and local from Greenville and the surrounding area.
“It’s very critical having these young guys, because they have the enthusiasm to want to do it,” he said. “They eventually become the trainers for the next group of guys that comes through. It’s the circle of life.”
For firefighter Tim Foster, who has been with the department for 36 years, working and training the younger recruits is an important step in making the department that much more effective when working on the scene of an accident or fire.
“I think it’s great, it takes a lot of burden off of us,” Foster said. “ It’s very exciting to see the next phase of people coming through. They’re becoming part of an organization that’s pretty awesome at times.”
Hopkins said at times the job can be stressful and tiring, especially in the late hours of the day, making it advantageous to have younger, more enthusiastic firefighters with the department.
“We’re still very active in the department, but we’re getting older, we tire quicker,” Hopkins said. “They are gung-ho and can last longer. It’s very exciting to see the next phase of people coming through.”
Greenville City Manager George Bosanic said he was glad to see the department focusing on making sure the new paid-on-call firefighters were working in tandem together with full time firefighters.
“Greenville is fortunate to have a full compliment of both full-time and part-paid firefighters who are as dedicated and professional in what they do. We are very blessed,” he said.