Board of Elders
|Richard Scott Jr.||9|
Smoke Diver History
Indiana Smoke Diver Program
The Indiana chapter to this story begins in 2006 when David Rhodes and Brent Hullender were approached by their friend, then Captain Matt Stewart, about taking the Smoke Diver course. They explained that since it was through the Georgia Fire Academy out-of-state students weren't allowed. After several phone calls and correspondence with Rhodes and the GFA, Stewart found a way to get in. Stewart made the trip to Georgia alone in October of 2006 and was paired up with another non-Georgia student from Ohio. This pair became the first students to take the class in Georgia who were not Georgia firefighters. Both graduated in Class 35 that only passed 7 students. Stewart became Georgia Smoke Diver #662 and the first to complete the course from Indiana.
When Stewart returned to Wayne Township Fire Dept. he began to make changes in the equipment, training, and operations that were directly influenced by the class. He also encouraged others at Wayne to take the class. Two years would pass before another Indiana firefighter would complete the course. Nolan Bastien passed Class 38 which would mark the start of at least one Indiana student passing in every class held after that. Matt Boone and Kevin Popp completed the next class which would be the last one held in Forsyth, GA before the move to north Georgia. Dan Spall would be the fifth Indiana student to pass in the first class to be held in Dalton.
The stream of Indiana students would continue until there were 11 Indiana Smoke Divers with one Georgia transplant that moved to the Indianapolis area. In December of 2011 a meeting was held between these 12 to discuss bringing the program to Indiana. It was agreed that this needed to be done and the gears were set in motion to have the first Indiana Smoke Diver course in 2013.
Currently (2021) the Indiana Smoke Diver program has 80 members who are fully committed self improvement and to enhancing firefighter safety thru training.
Georgia Smoke Diver Program
In 1978 Cortez Lawrence led a small group of dedicated Georgia firefighters to create an instructor base for the launch of the Georgia Smoke Diver Program. The original course was based on training methodology originating in the European fire service. Cortez (Smoke Diver #1) researched these techniques and combined them with training he received from the Florida Smoke Diver Course in 1977. This first Smoke Diver class, held in December 1978 at the Southern Tech/Georgia Fire Academy Campus, graduated thirteen members who were deemed “the elite few, strong in mind and body”. To mark the accomplishment a black t-shirt was designed along with a rocker patch. The concept and vision of the Georgia Smoke Diver program would not have been possible without these visionaries and the partnership and commitment of Harold Thompson, Director of the Georgia Fire Academy.
On April 14, 2005, in a hotel room in downtown Indianapolis, Brothers Brent Hullender, David Rhodes, Merv McDonald, and Doug Stephenson met with David Wall and GFA program specialist Donny Roberts (Smoke Diver #185), who were all attending or working at the Fire Department Instructors Conference. The proposal was unveiled for the new Georgia Smoke Diver Program and the partnership that it would take to deliver the course. The meeting was very positive and ended with a gentleman’s handshake that we would move forward. The following day, Director Wall set the date for the return of the Georgia Smoke Diver Program to the Georgia Fire Academy. Class #33 was scheduled with a start date of October 30, 2005.
A change in leadership at the Georgia Fire Academy created some very tumultuous times between the Smoke Diver instructors and the academy. The dispute stemmed from a policy change that required every applicant to be admitted to any State class and that every attendee would receive a certificate of attendance. The Smoke Diver instructors could not support what they deemed as training with no performance standards, and ultimately the Georgia Fire Academy dropped the program after the fall class of 1995. Class #32 brought an end to the nearly 20 years of training. The last Georgia Smoke Diver number issued in that class was #635 to Richard Bushman.
The return of the Georgia Smoke Diver course after a 10 year absence was met with extreme enthusiasm. In true Smoke Diver fashion the old instructors came back and put everything they had into ensuring the success of Class #33. The Board of Elders was concerned about the number of instructors that were going to be able to commit the time needed to keep the course going. The decision was made to hand pick the first class from those fire service members that were already instructors or already on their way.
In other words, we realized we were all getting old and somebody had to be able to keep this thing going! Each Elder was given 5 picks and a list of alternates was established. At the end of the week, 15 were left. During this class the practice of assigning Smoke Diver numbers alphabetically was abandoned and the numbers were issued based on the order of completion. Screven County Fire Chief Harvey Cryder was the first to complete the final nuts and bolts evolution and 10 years were quickly erased with Smoke Diver #636.