RICHMOND, Ky. — A Boone County native saw his first mini-documentary aired by West Virginia Public Broadcasting on June 21 when “Frametown” debuted for the first time.
Scotty Dunlap, a 1986 graduate of Scott High School, chronicled the story of the Frametown Volunteer Fire Department in Braxton County, which is predominantly female in membership.
Dunlap has deep roots in Boone County. The son of Carl and (the late) Kaye Dunlap was born at Boone Memorial Hospital and, after his father’s work took the family to Oceana for a brief stint, he spent his high school years in the Madison area.
“I was an athletic kid and loved baseball,” he said in a phone interview. “Once I got to high school, I lacked the drive that it took to be a varsity player, so I decided my best path to success would be in academics.”
The National Honor Society member says his time as a Skyhawk was memorable and positive.
He specifically remembers his time on the yearbook staff.
“I was the editor of it my senior year, and it was a great experience,” he added.
His high school years laid the foundation for his just-aired documentary, as he began in the fire service when he was a junior.
“I was a member of the Madison Volunteer Fire Department,” he said. “That is where I developed my passion and respect for volunteerism.”
His mother, Kaye Dunlap was an administrative assistant for the Boone County Commission and she also did side work for the Boone County Ambulance Authority and was active in the community.
“It was through my mom that I was introduced to the fire department,” he said.
Dunlap originally planned on studying fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland. He switched gears and attended Tennessee Temple University and earned a degree in missions.
“At the ripe old age of 23, I thought that perhaps I hadn’t experienced enough to be anyone’s spiritual leader,” he said, laughing. “I began thinking about the fire protection path again.”
Dunlap made the trek to Eastern Kentucky University and entered its fire program.
“Through that process, I learned about occupational safety and I learned that EKU had a masters degree in it, so I pursued that,” he added. “That led to a degree in loss prevention and safety.”
Before completing a doctorate at the University of Memphis, Dunlap spent 11 years in industry that included a stop as an employee of Nike in Memphis as the safety and environmental health manager.
Dunlap has remained close to the fire service industry through the years, and he looks to produce a book on West Virginia’s contribution to fire service on a national level.
His work on “Frametown” is his first in the film industry.
Dunlap’s connection to the Frametown Volunteer Fire Department came by chance.
Scotty and Leslie Dunlap are parents of adopted children who had previously been placed in multiple foster homes across multiple states.
“They really weren’t exposed to what you or I may consider normal childhood activities,” he said. “When we got them, we threw everything we could at the wall to see what might resonate with them; soccer, archery, softball, you name it.”
Dunlap found out about the junior firefighter camp that was run every summer in Frametown. He took his son there in the summer of 2016.
“It was big for me growing up, so I thought that maybe if he liked it, we could get him involved back in Kentucky with a local department,” he added. “I volunteered and worked at the camp for that week.”
Dunlap was struck by how many females were at the camp and he learned that it was commonplace at the department.
Through National Fire Protection Agency reports available online, Dunlap discovered that, while women made up only about 8% of the fire protection service nationally, Frametown boasted about 60% female volunteers.
Originally, the goal for Dunlap was to produce a quality journal article about the primary drivers that brought women to the department and made them stay.
“I thought if the story was rich enough, I’d bring a photographer along which would help in the development of a book if that opportunity was there,” he said. “I contacted Chris Radcliff, our (Eastern Kentucky) university photographer, and he was very excited about it and he suggested video for the interviews as well. Together, we thought if it was a rich enough story, it may justify a documentary and we found that it most certainly did.”
The crew spent the summer of 2018 in Frametown, and capped it off with two more visits in 2019.
Eastern Kentucky University, where Dunlap serves as a professor, funded the first round of visits. West Virginia University Fire Extension Service, along with EKU and some grant funding via the Central Appalachian Regional Education Research Center, helped fund the second visit.
Dunlap said his first visits were important because fire service personnel are a tight-knit group. He said his personal history in the industry helped pave the way to comfortable and open interviews and footage.
“They saw that this wasn’t just academia coming into their world,” he said. “I was a part of that family and that made everything go much smoother because I had their trust and that was an important element of getting the story.”
He said Fire Chief Angie Short was very helpful and open to his ideas and for the project as a whole.
“We were able to connect and she gave me her cell phone number and we had some talks about it,” he said. “It was clunky at first, because you have to realize, here is a team of people from an out-of-state university descending on their department. I understood that and was sensitive to it. We showed up with microphones, lights and cameras.”
An interesting element of the experience for Dunlap was realizing that what may seem unusual to the outside world is the norm for the Frametown Volunteer Fire Department. Females are active and hold leadership roles.
The trend of women in the department actually dates back some 46 years, when Sharon Frame served as an original member. Twenty-six years ago, Bonnie Petty, Iraq War veteran Teresa Mick and Mina Dobbins became the first females to pass Firefighter I status through the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension.
Today, Petty serves as department’s president, Mick is an active firefighter, and Dobbins is deceased.
The Frametown Volunteer Fire Department is responsible for an area that encompasses about 1,400 residents, 500 households, an elementary school, small businesses, and a near 15-mile trek of I-79.
Dunlap is cognizant of the lack of positive stories coming from the Appalachian region and hopes the film may shine a light away from some negative stereotypes and illuminate the positive results of a small community that works together for the better good.
“I think it also touches on feminism, which is a hot-button item these days,” he said. “Younger girls can realize that they can do this, too.”
Frametown will air again on West Virginia Public Broadcasting on June 29, July 2, and July 30. Please check local listings for air times.