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ECU Notes: ECU staff members volunteer during N.C. wildfires

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ECU staff members and volunteer firefighters Kevin Byrum (left) and Chris Wilson traveled to Lake Lure in November to help fight the Party Rock wildfire. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

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ECU News Services

Sunday, December 18, 2016

For three days in November, two East Carolina University employees joined more than 900 firefighters from across the country battling the Party Rock wildfire near Lake Lure.

Grounds worker Kevin Byrum and equipment operator Chris Wilson balance working at ECU with family and volunteering at local fire departments in Pitt County. Both have experience responding to emergencies and natural disasters like Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina.

When they heard a request for help from first responders in the mountains, they didn’t hesitate – exemplifying one of ECU’s core values: service.

“I felt like I needed to,” Byrum said. “Some of the firefighters from the western part of the state came and helped during the hurricane. It was time to help them.”

The two men traveled to Shumont Mountain with four other firefighters from Pitt County. Wilson volunteers with Belvoir Fire Department and Byrum is a captain with the Winterville Community Fire Department.

The Party Rock fire was originally reported on Nov. 5 and threatened homes and buildings requiring evacuations in areas such as Chimney Rock and the Fairfield Mountains. When Byrum and Wilson arrived on Nov. 18, the sky was filled with a smoky haze from nearby fires. The town’s residents had left, but firefighters and their equipment had taken over the quiet streets.

The men worked 12-hour shifts on six-person teams; Wilson worked during the day and Byrum at night. They were assigned to structural support – protecting homes in the event flames jumped the fire line. Wilson explained that a fire line is an area where heavy equipment is used to remove brush and other flammable material several yards wide to prevent the fire from spreading.

Wilson’s team was stationed near the fire line at a farm that was evacuated by residents who had to leave livestock behind. Wilson said he could see the fire burning just a few hundred yards from the property. It never made it to the farm but his team did have a day when it came close.

“We thought the fire had crossed the fire line. We could see the flames but we couldn’t tell for sure exactly where it was because the rolling hills of the mountains made it hard to judge the distance,” Wilson said.

Fortunately, the flames never made it past the fire line. No structures were lost during the Party Rock fire but it did cause approximately $7.65 million in damages. The fire consumed more than 7,000 acres by the time it was fully contained Nov. 30.

The rocky terrain and steep slopes of the mountains were new experiences for the two seasoned firefighters who are used to tackling brush fires in the eastern part of the state.

The first night, Byrum’s team helped pump water from a pond into brush trucks. The rest of the nights were busy protecting homes in the Fairfield Mountains. He said the homes were spread out so they spent their time walking along the side of the mountain between the residences and clearing leaves.

It was Byrum’s first time volunteering for an event like the wildfire, and he described it as an eye-opening experience.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. You won’t see fire lines like that in this area,” Byrum said.

Wilson said he liked helping and it was good to get the experience of working such a large fire. While there, they met firefighters from all over the country including Alaska, California and Oregon.

Byrum and Wilson said that volunteering with the local fire departments is their way of giving back and helping others in the community. Byrum said it’s a passion and he enjoys the work, which includes coordinating training for the firefighters in his department.

“Not everyone will jump up and help a stranger. I hope I can do it for many more years,” he said.

Chicago Cubs trainer and ECU alum reflects on career

As head athletic trainer for the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, ECU alumnus PJ Mainville ’97 recommends that potential students understand the profession is one of service.

“I am always looking for something new or different to help the players,” Mainville said. “Athletic training is a perfect blend of athletics and the medical field.”

In his fifth season with the Cubs, Mainville is responsible for the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of sports injuries for the team, where he oversees 23 staff members in athletic training and strength and conditioning. He said establishing relationships with his team and players is the best part of his job.

The Warrenton, Va., native wanted to attend college out of state and said his visit to ECU sold him.

“The people were welcoming and I settled into the community well,” Mainville said.

Although the athletic training degree had not been established, the curriculum to prepare students for the Board of Certification exam to become nationally certified was offered through the exercise and sport science degree, which is the path Mainville chose.

“The expectations of the curriculum that Dr. Katie Flanagan developed helped prepare students for the real world,” he said.

Now that Mainville has reached his goal of being a head athletic trainer, he said his perspective has changed. And he eventually wants to teach in a university setting once his time is finished in baseball.

“I am helping to prepare those under me to take my job one day,” he said.

Mainville worked more than 13 years in the minor leagues with the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks and is entering his seventh season in major league baseball. He earned a master’s degree in 2005 in performance enhancement from California University of Pennsylvania.

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