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Amber Mann named Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year

Amber Mann of Wanchese was recently recognized as Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Department’s 2020 Firefighter of the Year.

One of the newest and youngest members, Mann joined the all volunteer department in 2019 when she turned 16 and quickly established herself as a person of outstanding character, dedication and loyalty not only to RIVFD, but also the fire service in general and all Roanoke Island citizens.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “It was an amazing thing. When they called my name, I was so shocked that they would even consider me for such an award.”

Now in her senior year at Wanchese Christian Academy, Mann said her fire department involvement began simply as a way to enhance her college admission chances. Community volunteer hours are a recognized, proven resume component that college recruiters look at.

“I joined the fire department to get some volunteer hours,” said Mann. “I wanted to contribute back to the community but I played volleyball at school and I could not find anything that fit around my school and volleyball schedule.”

When all attempts to volunteer with area organizations and government offices proved to be dead ends, her volleyball coach Jeannie Light suggested the fire department as an option. Light, already a member in the department, agreed to sponsor Mann and it proved to be a perfect fit.

Voted in as a RIVFD member on July 11, right after she turned 16, Mann completed 77 training hours in 2019 and went on to complete another 209.5 training hours in 2020.

As a high school student her fire department participation was contingent on producing passing grades.

“She had to show me her grades and maintain a certain academic standard,” said Talmadge “TJ” Jones who retired as RIVFD fire chief at the end of 2020. “She had to have at least a C, but she was As and Bs all the time.”

With class subjects like Bible, algebra, economics, Spanish and marine biology, it was not an easy academic schedule.

Not just a volunteer, she quickly integrated herself into the department as a regular member.

“Amber has been one of our top responders to calls for service,” said Bill Walker, who was the department’s training officer in 2020. “If she is not in school, she is often available to go on a call and she has been extremely active with that.”

Walker went on to say that Mann has been very active in both the department’s in-house training sessions and is currently participating in a local firefighter I and II certification program. While generating the second highest number of training hours in the department in 2020, she should complete her firefighter I and II certification in the next couple of months.

“She is a little restricted in what she can do because of her age,” Walker continued. “But she does everything she is allowed to do. From pulling fire hose to helping at the command post. She will do anything she is asked to do.”

“Amber and I communicate every day,” said C.C. Mihovch, a RIVFD engineer who also responds to the Wanchese station. “She told me she was having trouble starting a chainsaw, so we agreed to meet at the station in Wanchese one Sunday afternoon and work on it.

“We went through several different ways,” Mihovch continued. “First we tried to put her foot in the handle, but her boot wouldn’t fit. So then we took the cover off the blade bar and placed in through the handle so she could step on that and pull the cord. But she didn’t have enough strength in her hand to hold onto the handle and pull the cord at the same time. I made a lanyard that went around her wrist and looped around the handle, so she could use her arm.”

Mihovch said after working on it about an hour and a half, Mann was able to start the chainsaw six times.

“The next night she passed her test and everybody was happy,” he added.

Overall, Mann said she is happy with her participation in the island fire department.

“I enjoy seeing the smile on people’s faces when I get to help them,” said Mann. “I love that when we go to a scene and we help someone, or after a fire call or fire alarm, that people come out and are grateful for what we do and that all is okay. That just warms my heart.”

It appears looking for a community volunteer activity may have led to more than resume hours.

“She was looking for an opportunity to get volunteer hours for her college resume,” said her father, Orman Mann. “She was having a hard time finding something that would work around her school and sports schedule. What she didn’t count on was being fully welcomed and accepted by a group of adult men who encouraged and trained her in something that has changed her life. I am proud of her and mostly grateful for a great team of men that accepted her and who are helping her to become the best she could be.”

More than accepted, some see her as an inspiration for others.

“As a volunteer department we are always open to new members,” said Walker. “Hopefully Amber will be an inspiration to others that even people her age, at 16 or 17, can join and provide an important service to the community.”

Walker said anyone interested in knowing more about the fire department and how to volunteer could call the north station at 252-473-2300.

As for Amber Mann’s future, she said her plans after graduating from Wanchese Christian Academy include attending Chowan University to earn a four year degree, although she is undecided on what degree that will be at the moment. And after that?

“I would love after college to return home and be a paid firefighter on the Outer Banks,” she said. “I want to thank all the firefighters in the department who helped me find something I truly love.”

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