In the spring of 2018, the Covenant Safety and Security office sent out an email looking for students interested in a new service opportunity: volunteering at the West Brow Fire Department.
Initial interest meetings pulled in a lot of students, but eventually the group weeded itself down to only a few. This group was able to receive Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) training paid for by a friend of the college who felt passionate about restarting this program at Covenant.
The EMR training was offered throughout the spring semester, so that by the end of the spring, students taking the course were certified as EMRs. With this certification, the students are not allowed to administer drugs, but they can assess the patient’s condition, perform CPR, take vitals, and do damage control.
This semester, those students have trained as support volunteer firefighters, which means they are now trained in getting equipment off of trucks, filling air packs, and assisting with firefighting from outside the structure.
Now, this group of students continues to attend weekly training at West Brow Fire Department, and they have begun to receive calls.
Davy Coddington (’21), one of the volunteers at West Brow, said that volunteers receive roughly one call per day, though this varies. These calls are about anything someone would call 911 for, including chest pains, seizures, falls on trails, vehicle accidents, and structure fires.
According to Coddington, there are about 24 volunteers at West Brow, and this volunteer network is made up of a conglomerate of EMRs, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), firefighters, nurses, paramedics, and police.
Dispatchers communicate with volunteers through an app called Active911. On this app, volunteers receive calls and alert each other as to who is responding. Officers can also send alerts to make sure volunteers are aware of potential dangers such as tornadoes.
“As a student,” said Coddington, “I respond when I have time. It’s all volunteer, so I’m not obligated to respond, but I love the work we do.”
Jordan Mixon (’19), another West Brow volunteer, also loves the work. She said, “It’s so fun, I even love just hanging out at the station.”
Although current students may think this relationship between Covenant and local fire departments is new, it actually reaches back several decades.
Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Covenant had an agreement with the City of Lookout Mountain: the city would provide equipment and training, and the college would provide classroom space, a stipend to incentivize students to volunteer, and a building with a garage to store the fire trucks. This building was located where the tennis courts are now.
Andy Gienapp (’94) was a volunteer at West Brow during his time as a student at Covenant. He initially got involved because several of his friends volunteered, and because volunteering counted as “practical hours”—the equivalent to what current students know as Mark 10:45 service hours.
He began training and volunteering in the spring of 1987, right as a First Responder course was getting started. He said, “[The first responder course] appealed to me immediately as I remembered watching the television show Emergency when I was a kid.”
Gienapp soon realized that this volunteer work was more than just a way to complete his service hours. He attended EMT school in Dalton, GA in the fall of 1987, and said, “By that point I had figured out that I really liked emergency medical services, and I saw it as a real career option for me.”
Gienapp went on to become a paramedic, serve in the army, and he now manages the Wyoming office of emergency medical services.
In regards to volunteering at West Brow, Gienapp said, “The opportunity to do this at Covenant changed my life. A liberal arts education is great, and I am thankful for mine, but my career was ultimately not in the liberal arts.”
When Gienapp found out last year that Keith McClearn, director of Safety and Security at Covenant, was working to re-establish the relationship between Covenant and West Brow, he was “pleasantly surprised,” and he did what he could to “act as a sounding board for Keith as he tried to build this thing again.”
According to current student volunteers, this new initiative to get students involved at West Brow has paid off. Mixon said that “West Brow’s become like family.” She has loved getting to know fellow students who she otherwise would not have interacted with, as well as other local residents who volunteer at West Brow.
Coddington described the process of training and responding to calls as “really rewarding work.”
He said, “The guys down at West Brow are such a different community than Covenant, and I really encourage Covenant to build a relationship with them. They are our neighbors and it has been so enriching to get to know them.”
Gienapp praised the volunteer opportunity as a chance to apply principles that Covenant values to everyday life. “It takes the theoretical teachings of the classroom and puts a practical face on them. These students are interacting with real people having real emergencies. What better way to show Covenant's foundation?”
He feels, however, that this work should be more greatly recognized by the school than it has been since the restarting of the program. “The college should incentivize this to an even greater degree. It's hard, dangerous work, and the students should see some form of compensation.”
For those who want to get involved, both Coddington and Mixon encouraged students to contact them at their covenant.edu emails.
Another avenue for involvement is a club that Coddington is excited to start: Covenant College Fire and Rescue. He hopes to use this club as a way to get more publicity for the volunteer opportunity. This includes bringing in paramedics and EMTs to speak and attending Thursday night training at West Brow, where volunteers practice radio communication, patient assessments, and more.
Hopefully, said Coddington, the club will be on trial run next semester.