The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

February 10, 2013

If the hat fits...

... Fire chief or safety manager, Shane Wheeler will wear it

MOUNT HOPE — As preparations for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree ramp up, Mount Hope Fire Chief Shane Wheeler is juggling hats.

His fire chief hat is well worn after seven years of service, and now the seasoned emergency services worker is picking up another. Two months ago, Wheeler signed on as health and safety manager for the Summit Bechtel Reserve.

In that capacity, he’s charged with ensuring that staff, participants and visitors to the Summit have “a safe and meaningful experience.”

A typical day for Wheeler involves meeting with government agencies or members of the military, working with staff at the 75,000-square-foot Arnold Logistics Center to ensure a safe work environment, or conferring with a transportation consultant to make sure routing for buses is being implemented properly.

“It’s a big job — huge,” he said. But he has backing and support from the likes of a three-star Navy admiral and a team of volunteer safety professionals from across the nation who will converge on Garden Grounds in July.

“I don’t know that I can name a department that isn’t involved,” he says of the massive cross-agency effort to provide logistical support to the Jamboree.

As fire chief, Wheeler gained familiarity with the planning and development of the Summit through his coordinating work with the Scouts, military and government agencies since the project’s inception.

When the management position became available, Wheeler said it was a “natural fit” because he practically felt like a member of Summit staff already.

His experience with local emergency services, likewise, gives him a unique perspective at the Summit. Whether from Bridge Day or house fires, he brings decades of local knowledge and relationships to the national organization, which must work closely alongside local emergency services during big events like the Jamboree.

“In terms of planning, I have a very good understanding of what are the capabilities and limitations of the resources in our area, region and state,” he said.

Wheeler — an Akron, Ohio, native — landed in Mount Hope after service in the Gulf War. He worked his way up from an EMT to management at General Ambulance. He served as chief of operations for that company, as well as for Jan-Care Ambulance before joining the Summit.

He became involved with his adoptive community in many respects, serving as athletic trainer for the Mount Hope High School football team and as a member of various civic organizations.

“The town just kind of embraced me and made me feel part of the Mount Hope family,” he says. “They are a very open community.”

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The Boy Scouts have been throwing Jamborees since 1935, but this one will be unprecedented. Never before have so many adventure sports been offered to Scouts. With adventure comes risk, and that’s where Wheeler is focused.

“My concern is that no one’s ever done this before. We’re plowing new earth. We’re trying to anticipate any possible thing that could happen,” he explains.

With so much to anticipate, how will he manage his responsibility as Mount Hope fire chief during the Jamboree? Here’s the plan.

During the event, a fire services coordinator from the area will serve as a shadow for the BSA fire services director to make sure there is protection in and around the Summit.

“I wear both hats during the event. My primary focus is the health and safety of everybody.

“But the only way I would be brought in (to act as fire chief) would be with something of large significance that would require me to take off my safety hat and put on my fire chief hat,” he says.

During day-to-day operations at the fire department, be it responding to calls at the Summit or in the city, the department will follow its usual chain of command.

Wheeler says the Mount Hope Volunteer Fire Department has financially benefited from the Scouts in a couple of ways.

For one, they are paid at an hourly rate to offer medical standby support to various National Guard units that come to the Summit for readiness training. The department was just awarded a third year of that contract.

The BSA has also purchased a 4-wheel-drive fire engine for the fire department to support the Summit and the community. It is being housed at the Summit during the spring and summer and at Mount Hope the rest of the year.

The truck, with its 200-gallon tank, is specially designed to access rugged terrain like that found at the Summit.

Over the years, Mount Hope has seen massive development projects flare up and soften to ash, from a storied stadium on Sun Mine Road to the closing of the Georgia Pacific plant in town. As a result, Wheeler sees a certain apprehension toward the BSA among townspeople, but he says it’s unfounded.

“Their solid support of the town is just amazing to me. They’ve opened a lot of doors to the community that certainly wouldn’t have been possible otherwise,” he says.

He believes the Summit’s potential is underrated among locals and that major infrastructure, tourism-related development and on-site employment will offer them opportunities far into the future.

The scope of the impact hit home for Wheeler when the BSA offered to purchase water in advance from a cash-strapped Mount Hope water system.

“You hear a lot of people talk about doing things, but the Summit Bechtel Reserve has been about action.

“And they are a partner that’s willing to use the local guys instead of farming stuff out.”

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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