By Alexa Fults, Staff Writer
Since its formal organization in 1951, The Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) has served the University community and the neighboring areas of Sherwood and Monteagle with a team of highly-trained local residents and students.
As one of only two student-involved volunteer fire departments in the country, SVFD offers a unique opportunity for Sewanee students to serve their community. Each spring, SVFD begins the process of recruiting and training new additions to this team of selflessly devoted individuals.
Taylor Hall (C’20) explained that “students who wish to join SVFD must undergo six weeks of informative classes regarding fire safety and fire department equipment and pass a final examination complete with both a written and physical portion.”
At the end of the training period, six first-year students showed they had what it takes to protect and defend our community in the event of an emergency: Carl Failing (C’21), Crawford McMackin (C’21), Carter Petis (C’21), Pearce Johnson (C’21), Sam Everett (C’21), and Mary Patton Sims (C’21).
When asked how it felt to be one of the few female firefighters in history, Patton replied, “I am extremely flattered by all the encouraging feedback and honored to represent women on this campus, but I believe it is important to recognize the hard work and dedication of all the guys as well. I wouldn’t want to be the only one recognized because I’m a woman. All of us deserve to be recognized equally for our commitment.”
Aside from fighting fires, assisting in search and rescue missions, and supervising various drills and alarm checks, the student members of the SVFD can be spotted spending their downtime communing with one another in Wiggins. Wiggins is a residence hall set aside specifically for the purpose of housing student firefighters. Since Patton is currently the only female firefighter, she will have the privilege of living in a single in Wiggins next academic year.
Despite popular belief, the student portion of SVFD is not synonymous with fraternal living. According to Failing, there is no totem pole of seniority inside Wiggins or SVFD, only a hierarchy of knowledge. There are no “freshman duties,” and no one is forced to do another’s laundry.
He also spoke to the sense of comradery among members of SVFD: “I’ve never seen a group of people who have each others’ backs like we do. You can send a text in the group chat saying you need jumper cables, and there will be someone at your vehicle within five minutes. We also cook out a lot.”
“I have been given a very rare opportunity to serve my community while earning an education. The crisis management skills and experiences I gain during my time with SVFD will carry out to my future career as a doctor,” Failing said on his experience serving as a firefighter.
The newest members of SVFD haven’t had to rush into a burning building thus far, but they have been involved with routine fire alarm checks, responses to fire alarms, and blocking off the roads to allow helicopters to safely land at Hodgson Memorial Hospital.
Wright Griffith (C’18), a senior member of the department, said that “the new freshmen men and women have been doing a great job with acclimating to SVFD life and with all the activities that come with it. So far, they have proven to be a great group.”