IN GROUP PHOTO (from left): Wiregrass Instructor Mark Whitson; Wiregrass Automotive Collison Repair students Dakota Knudsen, Kelvin Adams, Marvin Martin and James Rickerson; Battalion Chief Ronald Skrine and Fire Chief Freddie Broome proudly stand in front of the refinished VFD 2003 Ford 350 Super Duty.
VFD and Wiregrass Partner for Community Success
A need to repair existing Valdosta Fire Department vehicles has turned into a great teaching tool for students in the Automotive Collision Repair Program at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, one that is saving taxpayers money while providing invaluable experience to local students.
VFD Battalion Chief Ronald Skrine knew the VFD needed a viable, affordable way to refinish the VFD’s older vehicles covered in dings, nicks, and old paint.
“Some vehicles in our fleet still run well but aren’t cosmetically pleasant,” Chief Skrine said. “We want the fleet to be uniform and well-maintained, which best reflects our department’s image and professionalism.”
While brainstorming, Chief Skrine reached out to Wiregrass’s ACR Program Director Mark Whitson. Together they came up with a mutually beneficial solution: Whitson’s students would refinish the old vehicles as part of their course work, and the VFD would only have to pay for the necessary materials. The partnership allowed the VFD to save a substantial amount on labor costs, gain the much-needed repairs for its vehicles, and prolong the lifespan of its current fleet.
“Through our cooperative efforts and the innovative use of community resources, a need was turned into an opportunity,” according to Fire Chief Freddie Broome. “This is a great example of cooperation. When agencies join together to accomplish a goal, the taxpayers of this great city are the real winners.”
Whitson’s students have completed work on a 2003 Ford 350 Super Duty and a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, and they are currently refinishing an additional 2008 Ford Crown Victoria for the department. Typically, the ACR Program students do not work on total paint jobs, but Whitson said he was glad to take on this larger project because it is helping the community while giving his students real-world experience.
“It’s a win-win deal for both of us,” Whitson said. “It’s definitely hard work, and each collision repair is different – every dent, every wreck, everything. These students have to use their imagination and analytical skills, and we want to show them what it’s like to work on these types of vehicles in the real world. If they do it right, students can make a great living in this field and provide a great service to the community.”
In addition to the opportunity to refinish three vehicles for the city, Whitson’s students say the project will be a source of pride for them.
“Although this project is the biggest I’ve done and is testing my skills, I feel good giving back to the community in this way,” said Marvin Martin, who is currently in his third of the ACR program’s five semesters. “It’s also nice working on something that will actually be used, not just parts and pieces that will never see the road again. When I see this vehicle on the road, I can say, ‘I did that!’”
The two completed VFD vehicles will be included in the Greater Valdosta Community Christmas Parade, on Dec. 5, and will be carrying the Wiregrass students who worked on the vehicles.
For more information about the ACR Program at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, visit www.wiregrass.edu. For more information about the Valdosta Fire Department, visit www.valdostacity.com/fire.