Laura Dean Bennett
As we gather around the Christmas tree, attend church services and Christmas plays and sit down to festive meals at Christmastime, we might want to spare a thought for our neighbors who are always on call or out working in the cold at Christmas.
One group who has been called upon to step between an individual or a family and disaster on many Christmas Eves and Christmas Days, is the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department.
This group of 25 brave firefighters and EMTs don’t seek recognition and actually prefer anonymity, but this Christmas we thought perhaps our readers would like to hear a little bit about their family celebrations.
The captain of the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department is Travis Cook.
It would be unusual if Cook wasn’t working on Christmas Day.
“I usually work every Christmas to give people who have children the day off to be with their families,” he said.
“This Christmas will be the first Christmas since 2012 that I am not scheduled to work.
“We’re an all volunteer station, so, of course, we can get called out on Christmas or any holiday, and sometimes, we do.”
Growing up, Cook enjoyed spending traditional Christmases with his dad, Mark Cook, and his stepmom here in Marlinton.
“These days, I’m usually working a 48 hour shift over Christmas at the Shaver’s Fork Fire Rescue Station at Snowshoe,” Cook said.
“At Shaver’s Fork, we exchange gifts with the Secret Santa system. We usually stay in the station and hang out between calls.
“The weather can be a challenge. It’s always cold and windy up there, and Christmas week is a really busy time with lots of people on vacation at Snowshoe, so we’re usually pretty busy.
“We see it all – injuries, accidents, fire alarms and sometimes illness,” he added.
“But we still make Christmas special.
“The station has a kitchen, so we’ll cook a ham and everybody pitches in and we make a big Christmas dinner.
“It’s not unusual to get an EMS call on Christmas, whether it’s a visitor at Snowshoe or a local resident.
“But we try to sit down together for Christmas dinner if we can and enjoy a little bit of Christmas even if we’re away from home.
“I’ve always thought of our fire departments as our families. We spend a lot of time together,” he said. “We help each other out at work – and at home, sometimes, too.
“Whenever anyone needs anything, there’s someone who’ll step in to help.”
What would Cook like to say to the folks in Pocahontas County about Christmas?
“Enjoy your family Christmas memories from the past, and make good memories for the future!” he said.
Jamie Kellison is the Deputy Chief of the MVFD.
Last year, he and fellow firefighter and EMT J.P. Duncan were working on Christmas Day – bringing a patient in to the heliport at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital – when they were supposed to be at home having Christmas dinner with their families.
Kellison is the son of Jim and Margie Kellison.
His Christmas tradition is to spend the day at his parents’ home on Beaver Creek, just as he did growing up.
“The best thing about Christmas at our house has always been that Mom cooks crab legs,” Kellison said. “She gets these colossal Alaskan crab legs for us every year.
“She steams them with Old Bay seasoning and are they good!
“When I was growing up, Mom was never home all day on Christmas,” he said. “She’s an R.N., and she always had to work on Christmas.
“She worked in the Intensive Care Unit at Greenbrier Valley Hospital,” he explained. “Christmas Day we waited around until Mom could get home, then she’d cook the crab legs and we had a special Christmas dinner.
“The nurses would each work a four-hour shift on Christmas, so everyone could at least be home part of the day. Now, she’s working at University of Virginia Medical Center, and she doesn’t have to work on Christmas.
“Christmas is really a nice time to be at home with my family – especially now that Mom can be there.”
His message to Pocahontas County friends and neighbors this holiday season?
“I think Christmas has gotten too commercialized.
“Enjoy the moments you have with your loved ones. They’re way more important than the gifts.”
J.P. Duncan is Assistant Chief and Paramedic of the MVFD.
He and his wife, Dawn, live in Buckeye.
Their Christmas traditions include celebrating Christmas Eve with Dawn’s family in Frost and Christmas Day with J.P.’s family in Buckeye.
The Duncans have a big family of their own – a grown son, Austin and a married daughter, Amber Duncan Teter, and their youngest son, Tony.
Christmas Eve is spent at Dawn’s mother’s, Bonnie Taylor’s house in Frost where the usual Christmas festivities occur – with one notable exception.
“Our Christmas Eve dinner is a little different than most people’s, I guess,” Duncan admits.
“We usually have something like spaghetti or lasagna – anything that isn’t turkey.”
On Christmas Day, the Duncan clan gathers with J.P.’s parents at the Duncan home in Buckeye for a “really big Christmas breakfast with all the fixin’s,” Duncan said.
“Then we open presents.
“This year, our grandchildren are getting to an age where they really understand more about Christmastime. And they’re really excited.
“When my sister, Missy, and my brother, John, and I were young, we used to love to sleigh ride.
“We used inner tubes or wooden sleighs with the rails, or whatever we could use to slide down the hill on the snow. Now it’s fun to watch our grandchildren get excited about things.
“I guess what I’d say to people is to cherish the time you get to spend with your families,” Duncan said.
“Because you never know how much time you have,” Dawn added.
“Volunteering at the Fire Department, you always have to be ready to run out on a call.
“There are not too many days that go by without an EMS call, even during Christmas. Thank goodness fires are usually fewer and farther between,” Duncan said.
“I know I speak for everyone at the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department when I say how much we appreciate the support we get from the community all year long.
“And we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.”
Randy and Teresa Sharp are a team at home, at the family business – Glades Building Supply – and at the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department.
Randy is a volunteer firefighter and Teresa is MVFD treasurer.
Christmas is, as it is for most people, a family affair for the Sharps, who live in Marlinton.
They celebrate together with their grown sons, Cody and Austin, and their extended families.
“We always encourage our children and everyone to be active in the community, to be grateful and to help those in need,” Randy said.
“I’d just tell people, at Christmastime – and all the time – to enjoy your family while they’re around,” Randy advised.
“You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”
Herby and Jennifer Barlow, another couple at the Marlinton Fire Department, live at Woodrow.
Herby is the Fire Chief and a paramedic and Jennifer is the EMS Captain.
Herby retired from the West Virginia State Police a year and a half ago.
His dad, Richard Barlow, was one of the founding members of the Marlinton Rescue Squad.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Herby has been volunteering as a firefighter at the Marlinton station since 1981.
The Barlow family home was right next door to the firehouse.
“Christmas was always a big thing at our house,” Herby said. “My parents loved Christmas.
“When I look back on it, I wonder how they could manage to give so many nice Christmas presents to so many people every year.
“And I believe in Santa to this day, because of Santa’s helpers like my dad.
“My dad was the town’s Santa for many, many years. He was a loving and giving person.
“He was a special person – so generous and kind.
“When he passed away, we had the viewing here at the firehouse. His Santa suit was on one side of the coffin and his fireman’s uniform was on the other side.
“So many people came. The town had to shut down Main Street and Second Avenue.
“That’s how many people’s lives he touched.
“My mom and dad are gone now, and I have a new chapter of Christmas to write with my wife, Jennifer, and my son, Grayson.
“Christmas is about family – not presents. It’s about love and telling stories and making memories,” Herby concluded.
Jennifer also grew up in Marlinton and fondly remembers her childhood Christmases.
“Mom and Dad’s house on First Avenue had an attic,” she said. “On Christmas Eve, I would always be listening for Santa, and I’d hear thumping up over my head and I was sure I was hearing Santa and his sleigh on the roof.
“I’d try to watch for Santa and the reindeer to fly off the roof, but I could never catch them!” she laughed.
“I remember when Grandma Toots – Anita Nelson – was alive, we always had a big family Christmas at her house on Seventh Avenue. I would fall asleep on the floor next to the Christmas tree when all the older kids and adults were talking.
“Our son, Grayson, is five now, and these days, we have a tree in his room, so he can sleep next to a Christmas tree.
“He loves Christmas,” Jennifer said. “We always say Richard lives on through Grayson’s love of Christmas.
“Grayson was a shepherd this year in the Marlinton Methodist Church Christmas play. He said he was too grown up to be an animal again.
“Family really is the most important thing about Christmas,” Jennifer added.
“We wish everyone a beautiful Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.”
Brad Cassell is Second Lieutenant at Marlinton Fire Department, and a full-time firefighter at Shaver’s Fork.
He has good memories of Christmas in Marlinton.
“When I was a kid, I always loved the Christmas parade and the lights in town,” Cassell said.
“We always enjoyed aunts, uncles and cousins coming in for Christmas. They’d stay with my Grandpa and Grandma, Tom and Garnett Sharp.
“And I remember my brother, Aaron, and I would always sneak around and find our Christmas presents and open them way before Christmas,” he laughed.
“We’d be playing with our new video games a month before Christmas sometimes.
“Our parents, Jason and Sheila Sharp, never caught us at it. But, it’s okay to tell about it now.”
Cassell and his wife, Anna, have three youngsters of their own now, Lillie, Colton and Weston.
“We choose a charitable project each year,” Cassell said. “This year the kids chose to take an angel from the Senior Citizens Angel Tree.
“Even though we have to work on Christmas, we have a good time up at the Shaver’s Fork station. We have a nice meal, and we exchange our Secret Santa gifts – they’re usually some pretty funny gag gifts.
“It’s a good bunch of people. Pretty much, everybody who is a volunteer firefighter, an EMT or a paramedic is good hearted,” Cassell said.
Corey Teter, who lives in Buckeye, is a firefighter and also drives a tractor trailer for Maple Leaf Trucking.
Teter is married to Amber Duncan and they have two children.
Teter grew up in the Brush Country with his mom, Samantha Teter, and his sister, Kayleigh.
“Christmas was a big deal at our house,” he said. “It was a special time of year.
“We always went to the Baptist Church on Back Mountain Road and there were a lot of nice church programs and things that we enjoyed.
“Now that I have a family of my own, I like watching the kids enjoy Christmas. We do all the typical Christmas stuff, and I really look forward to it as much as the kids do.
“We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve and then, on Christmas morning, I’m the first one up. I can only look at all the presents under the tree for so long and then I have to wake everyone up.
“Christmas is really a lot of fun at our house,” he said, laughing.
“Of course, I always have to be prepared to be on call all the time, but that just makes the time with my family more precious,” he said.
“Christmas is a time to enjoy being with your family.”
Donald Sharp is a volunteer firefighter who lives in Marlinton with his wife, Kim.
“I have lots of good memories of Christmas,” he said “My parents were Denver and Edna Sharp, and we lived in Woodrow.”
Sharp grew up with a twin brother, Ronald, and two more brothers and a sister.
“We believed in Santa Claus, and we always got a lot of toys at Christmas,” he remembered. “Yeah, those were good times.
“My parents always had a good Christmas for us, and sometimes it might not have been easy.
“But they always made it special.
These days, Sharp has a 24 year old son and three grandchildren.
“We always celebrate Christmas together with our son and his family,” Sharp said.
“We take turns – one year we go to their house in Monroe County, and the next year they come here to our house for Christmas.”
“Of course, we have a big Christmas dinner, and we like to play games.
“Family is the most important thing at Christmas.
“You just want to be with your family,” he concluded.
At 19, James Friel is the youngest member of the Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department.
He joined in 2016 at 16 years of age and became a full member at 18.
“I like being a firefighter because it’s something I can do to help people,” Friel said.
Growing up, he and his parents, Brian and Sherie Friel, his brother, Ryan, and sister, Alison, always enjoyed Christmases.
“We lived in Buckeye until I was seven, and then we moved to our house near Stillwell.
“Christmas was always a time to visit with relatives. We have a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins around here.
“I grew up going to Trinity Baptist Church. I still go every Sunday.
“When I was a kid, Santa always brought nice presents, but it’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t all about getting presents.
“The most important thing to remember is, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus,” Friel said.