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Local firefighter wants to pass on love for the field

Joe Wheeling has been a firefighter for almost a dozen years, and can’t imagine doing anything else.

He’s trying to pass that on to the next generation through the Winchester Fire-EMS Junior Firefighter program.

The program, which started in September, will give high school students ages 15 to 17 the opportunity to train with the department and earn hours toward their certification, he said. When they turn 18, they will have the required 150 hours to be a certified firefighter in Kentucky.

“We have a lot of fun,” Wheeling said.

The students will have an opportunity he didn’t have in high school.

“Throughout high school, I never knew what I wanted to do,” Wheeling said.

One night, he said he was going to the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington when there was an alarm sounding.

“It was there I saw Lexington (firefighters) running into the building while others were trying to get out,” he said. “I thought what better way to help people when they most need it?”

Wheeling, who grew up in Lexington, knew what he wanted to do. He was eventually hired at Clark County Fire Department and spent many weekends there making sure he got his training hours in. After seven years, Wheeling switched to Winchester Fire-EMS, where he is a firefighter and EMT. He is also a certified fire investigator, and will be traveling soon to earn his inspector certification.

The opportunity to branch out, he said, is one of the attractions to the field.

“You could do anything you want because there’s so much involved in the fire service,” he said. “You never know what call you’re going to get. That’s the good thing about this place. The opportunities are there and the city will send you out to get the training.”

It’s part of why Wheeling is leading the Junior Firefighter program.

“It was started for multiple reasons,” he said. “One is there’s a lack of interest in the fire service. The other is giving them the opportunity for what I say is the best career in the world. It’ doesn’t feel like a job. I’ve been doing this for 11 years and I feel like I started last year.”

Presently, there are seven participants in the Junior Firefighter program. They meet on Tuesday evenings for three hours of training and classes, he said.

“I want them to be excited about the career itself and the fulfillment they can get by helping people like I do,” he said. “It’s an opportunity got them to get a jump start on a career. This gives them an opportunity to see of they want to do it.”

For more information about the junior firefighter program, call Winchester Fire-EMS at 744-1587.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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