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'A much deeper respect'
Reporter takes opportunity to see challenge of firefighting firsthand

EVANS --- Broadcast journalist Donna Branch traded in her news script and microphone to become a firefighter for a day this past weekend.

Through the years, Miss Branch has covered dozens of fires, wrecks and rescue operations involving firefighters/first responders, but this marked the first time she has gotten a personal look at what battling intense heat and flames is like.

She participated in a fire training exercise with several full-time and volunteer firefighters with McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services at the Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Services' Gibbs Road fire station in Evans on Saturday.

"It was exciting," Miss Branch said of the recertification fire training class she attended. "I was a little nervous about my physical limitations at first, but I became more calm as everything was explained to me by Chief (Bruce) Tanner."

Chief Tanner, who heads the local county fire department, accompanied Miss Branch, the news director of WTHO FM 101.7 in Thomson, into smoke-filled shipping containers, which serve as fire training modules.

"I knew it would be hard, but I wanted to experience some of what they go through firsthand," said Miss Branch, who donned protective gear, including the helmet, shield and oxygen tank, while actually fighting a blaze on the bottom floor of one of the containers. She had been fitted for the gear a day earlier. "It presented a big challenge for me, personally."

Miss Branch underwent pre-training instructions by John Payne, who serves as the training officer for McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services. Mr. Payne also is a ranking member of the Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Services in Columbia County.

One of the most difficult exercises endured by participants was attempting to extinguish a downstairs fire by crawling on their knees and pulling fire hose at the same time.

"That was pretty hard; I must admit," Miss Branch said. "It was pretty cool getting the opportunity to actually extinguish a fire."

She fought the burning wooden pallets for 20 minutes.

At the time she doused the fire, she was surrounded by two veteran firefighters -- Chief Tanner and Lt. Kevin Perry.

"Everybody treated me so nicely," Miss Branch said. "Everybody was so helpful. I'll never forget the experience of being a firefighter, even if was for just a little while. I'm taking away from this experience a much deeper respect for firefighters."

Web posted on Thursday, October 08, 2009

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