Customer Account Manager Mike Sikora joined AEP Ohio in April 2021, so he wasn’t involved in the initial application process that awarded Belmont College $10,000 for its new Burn Training Facility. He has deep connections to it though; not only is Belmont College now one of his customers but Sikora was a graduate of the fire training program almost 20 years ago.

Left to right: Dr. Paul Gasparro, Belmont College president; Mike Sikora, AEP Ohio customer account manager; Michael Travis, AEP Ohio customer and external affairs manager; Melissa Rataiczak, Belmont College director of workforce and advancement

“I’m a proud alumni. I received my associate’s degree there, my EMT training and was a volunteer firefighter for 12 years,” he said. “I’m happy they were awarded the funding. I feel like I’ve come full circle.”

Sikora has firsthand knowledge of the education the facility will provide to aspiring firefighters and emergency response personnel since he was once put through the paces of certification himself. Students will receive live-fire experience for structure fires, flammable gas and flammable liquids. The building will provide a state-of-the-art confined space, rope rescue and flashover simulator for search and rescue trainings.

Located off Interstate 70 in St. Clairsville, Belmont College (which is close to AEP Ohio’s Belmont Service Center) has been a chartered fire school for nearly 30 years. There are currently no other burn facilities in the area, so roughly 50 fire programs in neighboring eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will likely all use the new $1.5 million facility for their training.

“There’s really nothing like it around here. Not anywhere close,” Sikora said.

Sikora has continued to stay current on his certifications since 2001. Since his daughter was born in 2009, though, he’s no longer a member of his local volunteer fire department. He’s able to complete this continuing education online but, should he want to brush up on his skills like many of his peers, he will soon have a convenient and top-of-the-line option for doing so.

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