BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Fire Department welcomed two new full-time career firefighters to its ranks Thursday – including the city’s first paid female firefighter.
Fire chief J.B. Kimble introduced Maria Potter and Shane Jenkins, the two new hires, at council’s Dec. 2 meeting, and Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner administered the oath of office.
Prior to administering the oaths of office to Potter and Jenkins, Skinner said the city is first and foremost a service provider.
“I’m proud of the services we provide, and one of the capstones of those services is the Buckhannon Fire Department, so this evening, we bring on two additional firefighters,” the mayor said. “I’m very excited for both of them. Ladies first, and by the way, [Maria Potter] is our first female firefighter for the City of Buckhannon, so we are moving right along. I know that they’re both going to do a great job to serve our city.”
Potter and Jenkins raised their right hands and swore to abide by the U.S. Constitution, the constitution of the state of West Virginia and the city’s charter, ordinances and resolutions. Each new hire pledged, “that, as a member of the Buckhannon Fire Department, my fundamental duty is to serve the people I swear to protect, to safeguard and preserve life, health and property against fire and other perils and to maintain proficiency and professionalism in fire service.”
Following the oaths of office, Potter’s young daughter, Riley, and her husband Brian, pinned on her badge, a symbol of public faith and trust. Jenkins’s girlfriend, Sara Tobin, pinned his badge on his uniform.
In addition to the two career firefighters, the Buckhannon Volunteer Fire Department also recently added three new volunteer firefighters, Kimble said. Kimble asked Emma Reger and Zachary Conrad, two of the three present at the Dec. 2 meeting, to stand.
“In the month of November, the Buckhannon Volunteer Fire Department accepted three new applicants,” the fire chief said. “One is a returning member who moved out of the area and came back and rejoined the organization. One is a brand-new member who has no training and will be starting our mentor program, and one is a contributing membership who is going into the medical field and is going to serve as an EMT, so I would like for those individuals to stand up.”
Kimble said he was pleased those young people were willing to volunteer.
“We always talk about how it’s hard to find anybody to volunteer for an organization anymore, but these are both young people who are looking to improve themselves in a great organization, and we look forward to helping them and them helping us and showing them emergency services, so they know what life’s like on the street,” Kimble said. “It’s an adventure. Stick with us; we have a lot of great people in our organization to train and spend time with.”
Potter is no newcomer to the field of emergency services, having started her career 13 years ago as an emergency medical technician with Upshur EMS. Since then, she has earned her paramedic license, obtained a nursing degree and had been working in the nursing field.
“In 2017, I went down to the Buckhannon Fire Department to join as a contributing member, as a paramedic and as a volunteer, and I found out I really enjoyed the fire service,” Potter said, “so I signed up for Firefighter 1 (an introductory firefighting course), and I really found my new passion.”
“I was born and raised in Buckhannon, so I feel like this is a good way to give back to community that I was born and raised in,” she added. “I love being there to help people and to comfort people, that’s where the nursing side comes in.”
Potter said there are currently an estimated 6,200 paid female firefighters in the U.S., but it’s especially cool to work as one of those firefighters in her hometown.
“It just goes to show that you can do anything you put your mind to, and dreams do come true in the sense of getting the job you really want,” she said. “Shane and I put in a lot of training this week, but it’s so rewarding. I think that’s probably the thing I love most about the fire service is that you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you do because it’s a big family and a team. And as far as being the first female, those guys encouraged me the whole time; it never was an issue.”
Jenkins, whose extended family attended the swearing-in, said working as a career firefighter is a dream come true.
“I think most little boys grow up with a dream of being a firefighter,” Jenkins said. “It’s always cool to look at the fire trucks and the flashy lights. But as far as that goes, I had been on the hiring list for about three years when they pulled us in and started. I had been waiting for awhile and saw the opportunity was coming, so I started preparing myself.”
Jenkins first served as a volunteer firefighter with the Warren District Volunteer Fire Department in Hodgesville for several years before joining the BFD.
“I’ve been with Buckhannon for about three years now, so especially when I got into the volunteer fire service, it goes pretty much back to what Maria said: Pretty much the second I walked in the door, I was welcomed by everyone. It was like a big family, and once I started to get my hands dirty with it all, I realized it was something I had a passion for.”
After several months of debate that began when city fire chief J.B. Kimble requested approval to hire three additional full-time firefighters during the 2021-2022 budgeting process in March, council finally voted to allocate funding for three firefighters’ salaries earlier this year.