Why are junior firefighters important?

CarolinaFireJournal - By David Hesselmeyer
By David Hesselmeyer
01/10/2013 -

Junior Firefighter Programs

Recently I had a chance to spend some time with a friend of mine, James Boyette; who is an officer with the Rosewood Fire Dept. in Wayne County, N.C. The main topic of our conversation was their new junior firefighter program. It just so happened that my friend is in charge of it.

During this discussion he told me of the work that he had been doing and the work that the juniors had already been doing. I was extremely pleased to hear this.

Why a Junior Program?

I have been on several volunteer fire departments in my career. I would say most of them had a junior firefighter program.


Scott Safety in Monroe, N.C. hosted the 2012 National Junior Firefighter Academy sponsored by the National Volunteer Fire Council. This was the first year to attend this event. Junior firefighters Adam Newcomb, Alex Brogden and Gabriel Boyette are participating in an event called Turnout Gear Relay. Each junior firefighter is timed on correctly putting on their turnout gear and air pack.

However, not every department had what I could classify as an active program. Sure the department would let them help out here and there but nothing that was tailored to their needs.

Why is this Important?

Having a junior firefighter program to me is extremely important. Why? There are two answers on this for me.

First, every year that passes we are losing more and more volunteers in every realm of society, including volunteer fire departments. One of the reasons I believe for this in the fire service is that we have neglected the younger generations by allowing them on the departments and then not providing them with training and education. In my opinion, having a junior firefighter program allows for us to further provide for the investment of personnel into the volunteer fire service.

Secondly, career fire departments can always use quality firefighters. Everyone reading this probably knows at least one career firefighter if not dozens. Where did that career firefighter get their start? Most of the time the answer is that they got their start in a firehouse and many times this came as a junior firefighter. Thus there are times when a volunteer AND a career department could lose out by a department for not having one of these programs.

These junior firefighters got their team together in April of 2012 and consist of the following junior firefighters and three advisers. Advisers include 1st Lt. James Boyette as primary adviser (pictured left), Capt. Paul Keel and Capt. Tyler Gardner. From Left to Right, junior firefighters include Gabriel Boyette, Adam Newcomb, Luke Hill, Jessica Milligan, Alex Brogden and firefighter Luke Milligan.

What is an Active Junior Firefighter Program?

To me there are several parts to an active junior firefighter program. These are a mentor, level based training and encouragement.

Junior firefighter Luke Hill is participating in an event called the Victim Dummy Drag. In this event the junior firefighter is timed on how fast they can correctly drag the victim the length of the course.

First, the junior firefighters need a mentor. This person, like James at Rosewood, should be committed to their juniors. This is not just a title. This person should be there for them ... even when it is not fire service based. These people can act as a mentor and a role model. There are too many benefits to even state here for this.

Second, the training needs to be level based. This means several things. First, find time and ways to train with them on the basics and not just keep throwing them in with the everyday training. Second, when letting them train with the rest of the department — which is important too — make sure they are aware of what is happening and why. This will allow them to build on their basics and understand a lot more than just one method.

These juniors also need encouragement. Again not just fire service encouragement but overall life encouragement. This will build not only good firefighters but honest and ethical firefighters as they will have that good role model and the chance to build good characteristics.

Too Risky!

Now I know that some departments and people will say that this is risky in terms of financial cost (e.g. insurance) and risk (e.g. getting hurt). Let me say here that I am not a lawyer nor do I propose to be one. That being said, there are ways to mitigate this risk. Having a good mentor can reduce this risk by knowing how and why to do training or anything. Another thing to reduce risks is to use exercising as a training option. Exercising will reduce chances of injuries. I am sure there are other ways to mitigate these risks but are likely more departmental based.

Worth It!

I highly encourage those departments who don’t have a junior firefighter program to organize a committee and begin a conversation of the potential benefits versus the risks. I also encourage those departments with a junior firefighter program to review it and to ensure that it is working and getting the results it should be.

Until next time, be safe!

David Hesselmeyer is a 14 year veteran in fire and EMS. He holds various certifications including Firefighter Level II, Paramedic, and NC Emergency Management Coordinator Type I. Hesselmeyer owns Emergency Planning Consulting which contracts with governmental and non profit agencies to assist them in planning for emergencies. He can be reached at [email protected]
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