SUMTER, S.C. — Frederick Gass is the fire instructor at Sumter Career and Technology Center. After working for 23 years as a firefighter, he now passes that knowledge on to upperclassman working toward their Firefighting I and II certifications.
"I’m giving them the real picture. I’m giving them what we learned years ago and now what’s happening in 2022," Gass explained. "It’s all about helping people, caring for people. That’s the bottom line."
That’s a lesson Gass has learned over the years. Now, he’s passing that wisdom on to students like Paija McFadden.
"Mr. Gass is preparing me for what I’m going to do later on, because I know I want to be a firefighter," she said.
Recently, Gass was recognized for his work. Johnny Barwick is a sign shop supervisor for the school district. He also worked as a volunteer firefighter for 25 years and got to know Gass.
"Me and him would ride on the truck together. That’s how me and him became friends and all," Barwick remembered.
Barwick presented his long-time friend with a painting to honor his work.
"Fred…I don’t think you could find a better fellow cuz he’s all about getting it right," Barwick told me. "When I found out he was starting this class and whatever, I figured you know that painting would look good [in the classroom] and it couldn’t go to a better person than him."
Gass was touched by the gesture.
"He touched my heart. I almost cried. It let me know that I touched his life," Gass said.
Barwick tells me he admires the program and his friend’s work to teach new firefighters.
"I just wish this was available when I was coming up because this is a great opportunity," Barwick said.
Brian Christmas with Sumter Fire Department says finding new ways to get the younger generation involved in firefighting is important.
"The times have changed, the generations have changed, and a lot of times we want to say well it’s the millennials or the younger generation is the problem, but that’s not necessarily the case. They’re not the problem," Christmas explained. "We have to learn how to change some of our ways as we have some of the older school mentalities as we were raised through the fire service and we have to find the ways to attract those people and to try and get them in."
This training is one of those ways. 11th grader Cole Tittle explains getting this training now is helpful.
"I want to be a firefighter; I’m glad I can start off early with it. Even if I don’t want to be a firefighter, I can take this with me the rest of my life," Tittle detailed.
For students like Jeremy Hanks, it's about more than a career.
"It means a lot. I follow in my brother’s footsteps and my dad’s footsteps," Hanks said.
Students complete the Firefighting I class in 11th grade. Senior year, they take a second class where they earn recognition as a Firefighter II and medical first responder.
"It can give them an opportunity to get a job in Sumter, Columbia, Florence...So it’s opportunity for them to start a career after school," Gass explained.
Christmas added, "The big key is making sure people come out certified when they get out of high school. Come out with a Firefighter I, Firefighter II certification so they can step right into the workforce."