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Donald Longerbeam - Assistant chief focuses on firefighter safety

April 23, 2006|By DAVE McMILLION

RANSON, W.Va. - They often call him "Hook."

Donald Longerbeam said the nickname came from the days when he worked for a local car towing company.

Longerbeam said he would drive up to a job and his boss would say, "Get out and hook up the car, slick."

How times have changed.

Longerbeam now is assistant chief of the Independent Fire Co., and he specializes in training others how to become firefighters.

Longerbeam also teaches advanced rescue classes, such as how to organize a rapid intervention team, a group that is specially trained to rescue firefighters who are trapped in burning buildings.

Longerbeam also is part of a three-person team that teaches firefighters how to rescue people trapped in wrecked cars, large trucks and farm machinery.

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Longerbeam said he does most of the lecturing for the courses, and the team offers training to about 95 percent of the county's firefighters.

Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith said Longerbeam makes the department aware of the latest advances in firefighting. He often reads about new techniques or travels out of state to learn about new practices, Smith said.

Longerbeam's work has led to new ways to fight fires at home, Smith said.

For instance, firefighters used to put fans in windows of burning homes to draw out smoke, Smith said.

Longerbeam instituted a different approach, one that involves blowing air into burning buildings, Smith said.

The approach, which uses a theory called "positive pressure," results in the smoke being blown out of the windows, Smith said.

Although it can cause a fire to momentarily grow larger, blowing the air into the building allows firefighters to see the blaze better, thereby allowing them to attack it faster and more safely, Smith said.

"He's made it a lot safer for a lot of people," Smith said. "He's recognized throughout the region and the state."

"I've been in some training, believe me. I have a folder over there that's pretty extensive," Longerbeam said during an interview at the department's station along Fairfax Boulevard.

Longerbeam said he likes training firefighters because it is a good feeling helping them learn skills that enable them to return home safely. Longerbeam said he feels fortunate to have received support from mentors such as Smith, Donald Clendening and Buck Willingham.

Longerbeam joined the department in 1984 and started as a firefighter. He later was elected to the position of chief driver for the rescue squad and promoted to lieutenant. Longerbeam now is a member of the department's board of directors.

In addition his firefighting work, Longerbeam was an animal control officer in Jefferson County for 11 years and now holds that job in Loudoun County, Va.

Q&A

Name - Donald Longerbeam

Address - Charles Town, W.Va.

Occupation - Animal control officer

Most notable achievement - Winning a firefighter of the year award during the annual Law & Safety Day ceremony in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Your proudest moment - When I became a pro board-certified Level three firefighter

Who is the person you most admire and why? - Frank Markstrom. He noticed that I had an interest and helped me pursue it.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? - Never believe you are beyond learning. Clayton James.

What is the next goal you would like to achieve? - Being fire chief of Independent Fire Co.

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