ROCKSPRINGS — Firefighters from around the area recently attended the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School held at Meigs High School.
The fire school was organized by a local planning committee and included training on several topics.
Twenty-two departments attended, including Pomeroy, Racine, Syracuse, Rutland, Chester, Bashan, Tuppers Plains, Olive Township, Middleport, Columbia Township, Scipio Township, Gallia County District 2, Vinton, Richland Area, Carthage Township, The Plains, Hamden, Zaleski, New Haven, Hamilton Township, Scioto Township and Meigs County EMS.
Training topics included Propane Gas Emergencies, Fire and EMS refreshers, Traffic Incident Management, Thermal Imaging Cameras, First In Engine Company Tactics and Forcible Entry Methods, and Junior Firefighter Skills.
The planning committee consisted of Brody Davis, Danny Davis, Donny Tillis, David Neigler, Tommy Werry, Bryan McCollum, Cheri McCollum, Peggy Stephens, Chuck Stephens, Aaron Oliphant, Gary Holter, Elmer Newell, and Marvin Taylor. Derek Miller and Tim Sands Co-Chaired the school.
“The school was a great success thanks to the support of our students, instructors, staff and sponsors. This year we had approximately 90 students taking classes covering a wide range of topics. Our hope is that the students take the information learned back to their departments, which will enable our area first responders to better serve their respective communities,” stated Miller.
Four long-time local firemen were honored during the opening ceremony of the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School, serving as Honorary Deans for the event.
Honorary deans were Clarence Atherton, Jim Gaston, Ray Midkiff, and Bob Wood. Atherton and Wood were in attendance for the opening ceremony and were presented plaques, as well as recognition from State Rep. Jay Edwards.
Atherton is currently a member of the Olive Twp. Fire Department where he is a lieutenant.
Clarence served in the Civil Defense organization from 1957 to 1967, and still owns the flag he put on his vehicle when involved with the Civil Defense. Clarence began his working career with the Central Ohio Paper Company in Columbus, Ohio and was employed there for 13 1/2 years. Clarence routinely fought fires at the plant 2-3 times per week with a CO2 extinguisher. The plant never had a fire hose to use, or needed to call the fire department; however, it was Clarence who established a long standing policy, with company approval, that the fire extinguisher would be completely emptied on each fire to ensure it would not rekindle.
Clarence’s first experience fighting fire involved being a part of a bucket brigade and using a reel pump to extinguish structure fires as a young boy in Alfred, Ohio. Clarence’s volunteer firefighting career started after a fire when he was visiting his parent’s home on Dec. 23, 1967. The Coolville Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire at a nearby residence. Clarence decided to go to the fire scene to help the fire departments, but when he arrived, the two story structure had already caved in. Once the fire was extinguished, Clarence headed a group who sought to go around the community and seek items for the displaced family. They began collecting items at 4 p.m. on Dec. 23, and in less than 24 hours, the displaced family moved into a vacant residence in Chester, with nearly as many belongings as they had before the fire.
After the fire, Clarence told his wife Lucille that he wanted to move back to Meigs County because the people in Columbus were not as helpful and giving as the people in Meigs County. From there, Clarence moved back to Letart in 1968, and was a member of the Racine Fire Department for a year before moving to Long Bottom and joining the Olive Township Fire Department. Clarence became an official member in the OTVFD in 1991, and has served in the positions of Chief, Assistant Chief, and is currently a Lieutenant in charge of maintenance. Clarence was honored for his many years of service to the OTVFD, and being a loyal, longtime supporter of the Meigs County Firefighter’s Association.
The second honorary dean, Gaston is a past member of the Columbia Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Gaston, a highly decorated Veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II, joined the Columbia Township Fire Department in 1987. He was an avid supporter for the betterment of Columbia Township, and especially its volunteer fire department. He was named the Fire Chief for Columbia Township in 1989, and is credited with some of the largest membership numbers that the department has ever seen. Gaston’s wife, Vivian, also served the department’s auxiliary, assisting with many of the extra tasks that needed completed to benefit the fire department.
Gaston’s continual focus involved improving the department with training and serving with professionalism and courtesy. His most fulfilling accomplishment during his time as a Columbia Township member involved starting the Bingo program, which enabled the department to acquire two trucks, a brush unit and tanker, that the department still uses today. Jim also added a SCBA filling station, and expanding the department by constructing a second building for department equipment.
Gaston was honored for his service to the Columbia Township Fire Department, and for being a dedicated and loyal member of the Meigs County Firefighter’s Association, including a term as President.
Midkiff is a member of the Salem Township Fire Department.
He started as a volunteer firefighter in 1977 with the Wilkesville Volunteer Fire Department in Vinton County. Soon after, the Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department was formed and he became a charter member. He has been serving as Fire Chief at Salem for several years, and is still active with the Wilkesville VFD. He enjoys attending the county fire meetings in both Meigs and Vinton counties.
Midkiff worked on dairy farms while his children were growing up, and then worked as a coal miner at Southern Ohio Coal Company until he retired. He’s been an active member of Star Grange #778 for more than 50 years. Last October, he was selected as the Ohio State Grange Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, and went on to be selected as the National Grange Volunteer Firefighter of the Year at the National Grange Convention. He was selected by Modern Woodmen as their Home Town Hero a couple of years ago.
Midkiff was honored for his service to the Salem Township Fire Department, and for being a dedicated and loyal member of the Meigs County Firefighter’s Association.
Wood is a member of the Chester Volunteer Fire Department.
In March 1950, he married Edna Cox and they established a home for themselves in Chester after spending a short time living in Middleport. Wood served his community in many ways during his lifetime. He has been a member of the Chester VFD for over 50 years, serving as an officer for over 40 years. After joining the department in 1967, he was asked to be secretary. He served in that capacity for 8 years. He has been the news reporter, public relations office, assistant secretary, vice president and president. In 1996, Wood was made an Honorary member, and served on the Board of Directors from 1995-2015. Wood still attends meetings and assists members as much as possible.
Wood was honored for his service to the Chester Fire Department, as well as being a loyal and dedicated member of the Meigs County Firefighter’s Association.
“Co-Chairman Tim Sands and I thank our dedicated planning committee which spent countless hours over the last 7 months coordinating the classes, planning meals, and preparing the programs and class certificates. We also want to congratulate our honorary deans, Clarence Atherton, Jim Gaston, Ray Midkiff, and Bob Wood, on their service to the fire service in Meigs County. Alas, we thank State Representative Jay Edwards and State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey for speaking to the attendees during the opening ceremonies,” concluded Miller.
Also speaking during the opening ceremony was Ohio State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey who provided updates on grant funding, training and other items. State Rep. Jay Edwards also spoke and presented recognition certificates to the honorary deans.
The 2020 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School will be hosted by the Vinton County Firefighters Association in the fall of 2020, at Vinton County High School in McArthur.
Information on Clarence Atherton obtained by Peggy Stephens for the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School. Information on Jim Gaston obtained by Cheri McCollum for the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School. Information on Ray Midkiff provided by Linda Montgomery for the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School. -Information on Bob Wood obtained by Marvin Taylor for the 2019 Hocking Valley Regional Fire School.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.