Four new Utopia firefighters pass first training round

Julye Keeble

Staff writer

Four new members of the Utopia Volunteer Fire Department recently attended a week-long training session at College Station, and all four passed the phase I firefighting course.

There are a total of five phases necessary to obtain certification for Firefighting 1 and Firefighting 2 levels through the State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association.

Utopia VFD members Kenneth Bohannan and his son Devin Bohannan, Will Gatlin and Bob Hanus all attended the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Spring fire school held March 1-6.

Bohannan and his son joined the Utopia fire department at the same time.

“At 51 years old I took on this challenge. Last night when I found I passed I was on cloud nine,” Bohannan said Tuesday.

He worked as an EMT in Uvalde for several years, starting when he was 18, and was interested in joining the Uvalde fire department at that time. That didn’t work out, but after a small brush fire incident at his home last year his dream of fighting fires was rekindled. He and his son both joined the Utopia fire department in 2019.

Utopia VFD chief Jim Cantrell stated all four men who attended the training had been members for less than a year.

“It is our policy to try and get them to at least Firefighter 1 within the first year,” Cantrell said, noting the fire department has been sending members for training with the A&M program for more than 20 years.

“Utopia VFD wants to better educate members and to strive to better its own department through training,” Bohannan said in a social media post.

The department consists of approximately 20 firefighters, and one junior firefighter, Utopia Independent School District eighth-grader Taya Bohannan, Kenneth Bohannan’s daughter.

The week-long training offered classes, including hands-on training, for all levels of firefighting. Courses are taught by hundreds of volunteer guest instructors with experience in specific areas of emergency response.

“We learned a lot of firefighting basics, about fire behavior such as backdrafts and roll over, SCBA and basic room search,” Bohannan said.

He spoke of practice using fire extinguishers, fighting car fires, and learning about the latest protective equipment and firefighting safety techniques.

The first time Bohannan wore SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus, gear he also had to enter a blacked out building and make his way through and out of the building by feel, which he said was an excellent training exercise.

The Utopia department often works closely with the Vanderpool Volunteer Fire Department. “It is a small community up here, we work together, fight fires together,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said the Utopia and Vanderpool departments are planning to send firefighters to the next training session to be held this summer.

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