The Times West Virginian

Local News

September 30, 2013

As leader of Barrackville VFD, Mike Bland is committed to helping others

BARRACKVILLE — Fresh out of high school, Mike Bland committed himself to making a difference within his community by becoming a firefighter at the Barrackville Volunteer Fire Department.

Twenty-five years later, he’s still making a difference, but now he’s the department’s fire chief.

“Through time, training and experience, guys start trusting you,” Bland said. “It really makes you feel good when they put you as their chief. To me, it means I’ve gained their respect, but now it’s my job to keep it.”

Bland has served as the chief since January, but he’s been a line officer for the past 15 years, first as a lieutenant, then a captain and then assistant chief.

Bland’s years of experience provide him with the knowledge necessary to lead his unit, and he said there’s one particular moment from his early firefighting days that he’ll never forget.

“We were making entry to attack the fire, and there was a flashover,” Bland said. “It happened just like that, but it just seemed like our lives were in slow motion. It sounded like a jet engine roaring. There was this big ball of fire.”

Bland and three of his fellow firefighters were thrown across the house’s garage and up against the wall.

“It went from fighting a fire to a recovery because they thought we were dead,” Bland said. “That was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life.”

Despite the fear that overcame Bland that day, he has remained committed to assisting others when they need it.

“I just enjoy helping people,” he said.

And the camaraderie that Bland shares with the rest of the fire department is second to none.

“I’ve got 26 brothers down here, but none of them are blood related,” he said. “I’d put them up against anybody.”

No matter what time of day duty calls, Bland said he and his crew are ready to take action.

“The guys down here don’t draw a dime for what they do,” Bland said. “They leave their family at home and walk out on Christmas, birthdays and ball games.”

And while Bland, who also works in field services for the City of Fairmont, admits there are sacrifices that have to be made, he said there’s a job that needs to be done and he’s proud to do it.

“There’s nothing that says anybody has to do this,” Bland said. “We’re doing it because we want to help.” 

Bland said that on average the fire department receives 18 calls a month.

“That means about every other day we’re going out,” he said.

But even when he’s not actively fighting a fire, Bland said there is always work to be done at the fire department.

“Every day there is paperwork, maintenance, day-to-day operations and just things that need to be done,” he said. “I have to make sure the trucks are in check and that everything is where it’s supposed to be.”

Bland said that making sure everything is in order ensures safety.

“I’ve got 27 guys in here and I think the world of all of them,” he said. “I don’t want one of them to get hurt because of a ‘we’ll get to it tomorrow’ attitude.”

And although there are many friendships among the firefighters, Bland said they know when to have fun and when to get serious.

“These guys are good at what they do and they trust each other, and that’s what it takes,” Bland said. “We joke, we play and we kid around, but when it comes time to do what we have to do, we’re like machines doing our thing.”

While many of the calls the fire department receives are serious in nature, Bland said there are some that are more lighthearted.

“Once, we got called out on a duck rescue,” he said. “I’d rather answer 100 of those than go out to a car wreck.”

Even though seeing his neighbors in danger can be difficult, Bland said in his position, he has to be able to put emotions aside.

“You really can’t have emotion,” he said. “It’s all about risk and gain.”

Bland said one of the goals of the fire department is to help the community understand that they’re there to help. This past summer, the department hosted a cookout for the entire community.

“We had the fire trucks on display and all of our guys were there,” Bland said. “We got to talk to people about what we do and what’s involved in what we do.”

Bland said he hopes to make that an annual event.

In October, Bland said the department will also hold a fire prevention event for the elementary school children.

“That’ll give them a chance to get introduced to us so they’re not scared and know what to expect,” Bland said.

Bland said he plans to be involved with the fire department for the foreseeable future.

“It’s just a fact that you never know where you’re going, who you’re going to see or what you’re going to do. There’s always that uncertainty,” Bland said. “But I’m going to do it as long as I can do it.”

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.

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