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At 78, woman becomes one of W.Va. fire department’s newest members

“What I’ve found is we’re all treated as equals here— it doesn’t matter how young or old you are —you’re a firefighter,” Cheat Lake VFD Firefighter Peggy Paulick said

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Cheat Lake VFD

By Erin Cleavenger
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You’re never too old to learn a new skill—just ask Cheat Lake resident Peggy Paulick .

Paulick was one of 19 local volunteer firefighters from various departments who graduated March 24 from West Virginia Public Safety Training’s Fire Fighter 1 class and are now ready to serve Monongalia and Marion counties.

What makes Paulick’s story so remarkable ?

At a youthful 78 (and 2 /3), WVPST said the grandmother is the oldest fire fighter 1 student in the state to go through the training course and pass—they even let her sign her name on the training burn building, to mark the occasion.

Paulick will now answer calls with the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department .

“She did not require any special treatment, " said Mathias Gomez-Tschrnko , firefighter and public information officer for River Road VFD, who observed the training class.

“She did it all the same as the youth in the class, " he said.

The youth in the class, according to Gomez-Tschrnko, were mainly junior firefighters, meaning they were under 18, more than 60 years her junior.

“Based on what I’ve seen Peggy do—you are never too old to not follow your dreams. It is amazing, " he said.

The training class itself consists of 155 hours worth of firefighting lectures and also encompasses demonstrating practical skills or “practicals, " such as placing ladders appropriately, climbing up ladders into two-story windows and using forcible-entry tools to break down doorways and windows.

The final practical required Paulick and her classmates to successfully force entry into a live burn building, climb up to that two-story window again with all the fire gear on, then flow water and properly extinguish the fire.

“It was certainly physically tough—physically demanding, " Paulick said of her experience.

During the live burn portion, she said the big question was, “Are you scared ?”

“Yeah, climbing that ladder was scary. I think sometimes you are more anxious than scared and you just have to have courage to know that this is really important. That someday you’re going to make a difference in somebody’s life maybe—or make a difference in people’s lives every day—you just don’t know it, " she said.

While she willingly admitted the hardest part for her was the ladder, she noted, “You don’t realize the gear is heavy.”

Gomez-Tschrnko said the gear worn by firefighters can add about 90-100 extra pounds to a person.

A “little " extra weight wasn’t a problem for Paulick.

“As long as you can get it on properly, it’s not weighing on your back—it’s more resting on your hipbones, " she said.

Paulick said she moved to the Cheat Lake area from Ohio about a year and half ago and was previously involved with her local emergency planning committee for years, but her background in emergency response had never hit this level.

It was when she learned the Cheat Lake VFD was within a mile of her new home that her inner child woke up.

“The 5-year-old in me remembered the kindergarten field trip to the fire station, " she laughed.

She was soon looking up the fire company online and learned of an open monthly community meeting and decided to attend.

She met Chief Jason Christopher , who asked her if she wanted to be a firefighter.

When she said she was too old, Christopher replied that there are jobs for everyone.

“I think that’s what started me thinking it was even possible, " she said. “I am so fortunate to be healthy at this age. And being retired, I still had something to contribute.”

Paulick said the only way she was able to complete this journey was because of the incredible support she had from everyone involved.

She said everyone is telling her “You did it, you did it !”

“I couldn’t have done it without their support, " she said. “It was like we did it—it was just incredible.”

The day after she graduated, Paulick said she looked in the mirror and knew something had been ignited.

“I found myself looking at me differently, " she said. “I don’t think I physically changed, but in my eyes I looked different.”

Paulick said she strongly feels the retiree community is an untapped market for things like this.

“We have the flexibility of being available during the day, " she pointed out.

“It doesn’t mean you’re running in to fight a fire—there are so many ways to help, " she said. For example, “I am really good at running the broom on the highway to clean up after car accidents.

“What I’ve found is we’re all treated as equals here—it doesn’t matter how young or old you are—you’re a firefighter.”

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