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College Program Trains Firefighters in High School

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Remington Embry, who graduated from Surry Community College’s first offering of the Firefighter Career & College Promise program, was recently hired as a full-time firefighter with Central Surry Volunteer Fire Department in Dobson.

The statewide Career & College Promise (CCP) program gives juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credentials, tuition-free, while they are still in high school.

“Remington Embry is a hardworking, dedicated student and firefighter. He always strives to better himself and expand his knowledge of the fire service,” said Ian Harrell, Director of Firefighter and Rescue Programs at Surry Community College. “Surry Community College is very proud to offer the Firefighter CCP program to all of our local students. It is a remarkable opportunity for them to learn a career path in a job market, which is growing by leaps and bounds in this part of the state.”

Embry, 18, of Dobson, graduated from the Surry Early College in May 2022 with his high school diploma along with many certifications – Firefighter Level I, Firefighter Level II, Awareness Operations PPE & Product Control (formerly called HazMat Ops), Emergency Medical Responder, and Emergency Vehicle Driver.

“It was an awesome opportunity. I absolutely loved it,” Embry said. “It really helps high school students to be able to take the classes during the day and earn college credit.”

When he began studies at the Surry Early College, Embry was interested in taking welding and business classes. Then, he heard about the Firefighter Career & College Promise program, which he immediately knew he wanted to do.

“My dad was a volunteer firefighter at Central Surry, and when my older sister was born, he got out of it,” Embry said. “He always told me stories about the calls he ran.”

When Embry was 14, he volunteered at the Jot-Um-Down Volunteer Fire Department in Elkin where he had cousins who also volunteered. His dad volunteered with him, which enabled Embry to be a junior volunteer firefighter and go on calls except medical and structure fires. At 15, Embry joined the Dobson Rescue Squad as a junior volunteer. At 17, he knew he wanted to run more calls, so he became a junior volunteer at the Central Surry Volunteer Fire Department.

“I love it. You never know what is coming. No call is ever the same,” he said. “The unknown elements on a call always get the adrenaline pumping. We take the information from the dispatcher, and we start determining a plan of action for who is doing what once we get to the scene.”

Embry is a young man who is wise beyond his years, and it’s due to what he has experienced as a junior volunteer in fire and rescue.

“At the age of 14, I had a real eye opener. I saw my first fatalities. The call was a triple ejection on Highway 268 where the driver and a passenger were killed on the scene,” he said. “It was difficult to be there, but I still felt good because I could help other people. We used a brush truck to avert traffic from the people who were working the scene.”

On any given day, a first responder has no idea what they may encounter, which is part of the job that Embry enjoys. He likes the variety of the work, and above all, he likes helping people.

“When I was 15, I worked a call with the Dobson Rescue Squad where two teenagers had run off the road in a truck and landed in a pond,” he said. “We prepped the boat, so the rescuers could go in after them. They were in up to their knees in water on Christmas Eve. It was cold, so we had blankets ready for them.”

Aside from working wrecks as a junior volunteer, Embry’s volunteer work took him on fire calls, fire alarms, trees blocking the roadway, and medical calls. The dispatchers are great at relaying information taken from eyewitnesses, Embry says, but you never know what you are going to encounter until you arrive on a scene. For example, a recent medical call for choking turned out to be a cardiac arrest where CPR had to be performed.

When asked how he handles the stress of his job, he pointed to the sky acknowledging his faith in God. He attends Amazing Grace Baptist Church. His family are also there for him, and they know the pressures from the line of work he is doing. His father, Ramsey, works full-time at Southland Transportation, but also works part-time as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. His sister, Autumn, is a paramedic with Hugh Chatham.

“You are going to see stuff that you don’t want to see, but you have to be ready for it. You have to be calm and not freeze up. I did freeze up one time, but I had to take some breaths and then get to work. You just never know what you are going to be dealing with from one day to another.”

To be a first responder, people need to be smart, willing to do anything, hard-working and strong mentally. They also must be a team player as Embry explains that for every one person working directly on a rescue that there are usually four support rescuers in place. You also must be ready for the unexpected.

There is also downtime, which is used to do maintenance work on the vehicles and equipment, so rescuers are ready when “waiting for tones to drop,” which is when calls are sent out via handheld radios. A certain tone for a call will be followed by the alert type and then which stations are being summoned.

“This is something I hope to do for the rest of my life. I love it,” he said. “I love helping people in their time of need, being their shoulder to cry on. You get an adrenaline rush because there are dangerous situations, but we always hope the outcome will be good.”

There are also easy days like when Embry took a firetruck to visit kindergarteners at Rockford Elementary School. He enjoyed answering the youngsters’ questions about the fire truck and rescue work.

Embry is a lieutenant at the Central Surry Fire Department in Dobson. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations where he is the only full-time employee. The rest of the department is made up of four part-time employees and many volunteers.

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