Teaching safety to kids best part of job

Published 1:55 am Friday, January 12, 2018


It was Mike Barnes’ scuba hobby that led him to join the Opp Fire Department as a volunteer. This week – four years later – the now fulltime firefighter was promoted to lieutenant.

Prior to joining the OFD, Barnes was working in the car business as a diagnostic technician for GM and Toyota. One afternoon four years ago he was grabbing a pizza at a local pizza shop, Pappa G’s, and ran into the current chief of Opp Fire Department, Cory Spurlin.

“We got into talking about scuba diving, because I had been an instructor for that, and then he told me that they actually had a diving team and were looking for some good help, so I jumped at the opportunity,” Barnes said.

The water rescue team specializes in body recovery, recovery of stolen items and dragging out wrecked cars.

Barnes has been a scuba instructor before so when the Opp Fire Department got a grant to spend $32,000 on professional scuba gear he was very excited.

“You can really tell the difference between some of our own personal gear, which is what we were having to use, and the professional stuff,” Barnes said. “They even have technology to where you can speak underwater, which has really been helpful in the work we do.”

For Barnes to have been considered for the promotion he had to go through several firefighter certifications, he had to be certified as an EMT, and had to go through 150 to 200 hours of classes and tests.

“Every two years I have to recertify my EMT license, so I have to have 72 hours of work to recertify it, since I am an advanced EMT,” Barnes said.

Barnes is very involved in the community by going to schools and talking about fire prevention.

“I just love working with kids. I love to see their face light up when you talk about fighting fires,” Barnes said.

Barnes is also an Eagle Scout, scout instructor, scuba instructor and CPR instructor.

“It feels good to serve my community in this role. You have to love what you do to provide great service and that’s exactly what I do,” Barnes said, “My goal is to be the best part of somebody’s worst day and to always be prepared.”

Barnes grew up in Dallas, Texas, and moved to Opp after he met his wife, since she had a large family that still lived there.

His family has been very excited about his promotion.

“Oh they were ecstatic,” he said. “My brother who is retired army, was very excited along with my two kids. I called my mom last night and she just told me how proud she was of me.”

Though it wasn’t his first calling in life, Barnes still wants to move up in the rankings.

“I’m what you call a ‘hobby collector.’ I want to learn all the knowledge there is about a certain thing so I can be the best about it,” Barnes said. “I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am now and of course I want Chief Spurlin to live forever, but if the opportunity comes up I would love to keep on moving up the chain of command.”

Barnes said that the best part of the job is teaching the kids about fire prevention.

“Man, when you have 100 elementary kids all stop, drop, and roll at the same time it really makes you feel like you’re doing something good,” Barnes said, “When kids come up to you in the grocery store and start reciting the right numbers to call and what their address is, it just feels good to know that I’m impacting their lives in a positive way.”

Barnes said that when he is looking for new fire recruits, the thing he looks for is a positive attitude and being eager to learn.

“This is all a very new feeling and it’s just now starting to sink in a little bit, but I am very excited for my family and for the opportunities that this can bring.”