Valdosta Daily Times

February 20, 2013

A life of fighting fires

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — His head and feet were firmly planted in the fertile fields of Lowndes County, but the seeds to one day fight fires were already planted firmly in the heart of Lowndes County Fire Rescue's Capt. Ken Carter, and his firefighting career bore fruit before he reached adulthood.

All he ever wanted to do was farm and that's what Carter says he did for most of his adult life, though he signed onto the Twins Lakes Volunteer Fire Department when we was 17.

“My full-time work was farming for most of my adult life and I still farm now part time,” says Carter. “But I came to a point in my life where I needed something to set me up a little better than farm income. I was fortunate enough to be hired here when the position came available in 2003.”

He was born and raised in the south end of Lowndes County with only a tree line separating his home from work and exploration on his uncle's farm.

“Some of my fondest memories include going down to the fire house with my dad,” Carter says. “He and my uncle were firefighters there from since the '50s and that's where I got my start fighting fires. My father was assistant chief and my uncle was the fire chief there, so it was like, hey, we'd just all follow up and go in there."

He didn't think of creating a career out of fighting fire until the early 2000s, though he admits that it was practically a second career before then. The department of volunteers had grown to the point that it began fielding a steady flow of calls and, subsequently, carried out a lot of training exercises each week to shore up readiness.

Carter worked roughly a year at Twin Lake's Volunteer Fire Department before responding to a large structure fire, he says.  

“It was big and I knew that I liked fighting fires, but what has always driven me was the personal satisfaction gained from knowing that I had helped someone during their worst time,” says Carter. “That made me feel good, being able to do that.”

There's certainly an adrenaline rush that accompanies fighting fires, Carter said, but age taught him to make his steps count and stay focused on his objectives. When you start to get older, you start looking at fighting fires from a different perspective, says Carter.

“As I've gotten older, there is still that adrenaline rush that comes about you,” Carter says. “But I began to think about what I should focus on when I get to the scene and what should I be looking out for. But now I look at it more from a standpoint of protecting these other guys ...

because I’m responsible for their safety.”

As trainer, his primary duty is ensuring the county's firefighters are given the best training possible.

“We have certain drills that we have to accomplish each year, which are part of a firefighter's core competency,” says Carter. “Those are things that every firefighter needs to know and most of the drills hinge on life safety skill, primarily that of the firefighter.”

The drills train volunteer firefighters in everything from disorientation and searches for victims to laddering a building and ventilating a building, says Carter. Firefighters drill the entire gamut, and there are classroom components to supplement the drill fields, he says.

“My job is to make sure things run on schedule and that all of our tasks are carried out, though we all work together on getting it done,” says Carter. “I dig up all of the learning material and I put it together for whoever needs it. I ensure that we're doing standardized training and that everything is up to code. I also schedule apparatus for maintenance in the shop and whatever else falls out of the sky that needs to be dealt with. My job is to be flexible.”

He says he believes that he needs to be willing to do anything he tells someone else to do. He says his work ethic stems from his religious morals, his family, and rigors of work itself.

“We're taught as Christians that we are supposed to be the best workers, and I believe very strongly in that,” says Carter. “I also think my love of community and family is a strong motivating factor for what I do. And let's face it. I've put a lot of  sweat in this organization over the last 30 years and that's definitely a motivating factor. I want to keep us moving forward.”

When he gets off of work at the fire station, he goes to church or works on his farm. That's pretty much his schedule, he says, and somewhere along the way, he finds time to sleep.

“It’s a small farm and it’s actually the farm I worked on back in 1986,” says Carter. “I went to work with a cousin of mine for nearly 20 years, before I took the job here with his blessings. In 2009, he passed away. So I took back over management of the farm and they've always been close family members to me. It just felt like a natural fit for me to get back out there.”

Carter raises beef cows and grows hay, though it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to cook any meals for his crew back at the fire station. Call it superstition or insight on behalf of his crew.

“I like fried chicken, fried cube steak and mashed potatoes, you know the whole gamut of things you'd get from gram's house. I love that,” says Carter. “But the last time I cooked a big meal like that, we were called to a big structure fire and we couldn't eat the meal until we got back. So they told me, 'Captain, you've got to quit cooking because we have a big fire every time you do.’”

Though single, he says his family life is great because most of his relatives are nearby and his church community is tightly knit into a wooded corner of the county. He thanks God for carrying him through difficulties in his life, he thanks his staff of trainers for their support on the drill fields and he thanks the firefighters of the Lowndes County Fire Rescue for his job

“If it weren't for the firefighters out there in the field and on the line, there'd be no relief for me to be behind this desk,” says Carter. “They're the ones that give me purpose in doing this job. I'm so proud to be associated with all of the people here. All of the support I get from people above and below me has been phenomenal.”