By Thomas A. Merrill
Junior firefighter programs have been a part of the volunteer fire service for years. There are varying rules, regulations, and customs among the departments that have them, but the benefits for the department, the community, and the junior members themselves associated with the programs are universal.
A well-designed and administered junior program will help the fire department in a number of ways, including recruitment. Recruiting and retaining members continues to be a major problem in the volunteer fire service. Incredible amounts of time, energy, and resources are directed at increasing the number of volunteers in the ranks. Often overlooked, the younger generation offers a potentially huge source of new and eager members.
Some believe that the millennial generation is not interested in volunteering, but studies show that they are definitely interested. What’s lacking is making them aware that there is a need at the firehouse for additional volunteers. Studies also clearly indicate that these young men and women don’t even know that their community is protected by volunteer firefighters. Get the word out, hook them early, and then show them the way.
A junior program is an excellent way for departments to help combat the aging workforce afflicting the volunteer fire service today. It’s no secret that the average age of volunteer firefighters has been steadily climbing upward. Hopefully, junior firefighters will someday graduate to full-fledged firefighter status, bringing the department’s average firefighter age down a bit. This also helps solidify the department’s future by ensuring a steady stream of new members continue to enter the ranks. In addition, when they graduate from the junior program and achieve firefighter status, they very well could have quite a built of training under their belt, putting them far ahead of a new firefighter who did not belong to the junior program. At the least, they benefit from being familiar with the organization’s other members and its structure, rules, and expectations.
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Junior programs also help set the department up for future success by grooming young men and women for future leadership roles. Some of these members may serve for many years to come and, quite possibly, assume administrative or firematic officer positions. At a young age, they develop a sense of duty and are made to understand the importance of chain of command, responsibility, and teamwork.
A strong junior program also benefits the department by giving it additional hands to help out at various functions and activities. Depending on how the program is structured, they may even be available to assist at emergency scenes by helping pack hose, clean up equipment, or any number of miscellaneous duties. They certainly are able to assist at fund-raising events and other community activities.
Junior programs can also enhance community goodwill for the department. Members will share their experiences with family, friends, and neighbors, and then word spreads throughout the community of the wonderful service being provided by the local fire department and all the good people serving.
In addition to the department benefits, the members themselves stand to benefit greatly. They learn about the importance of volunteering and working to make their community a better place. These young members receive invaluable training and learn all about the fire, rescue, and emergency medical services professions. There is no shortage of stories involving 14-or 15-year-old boys and girls jumping in to help save a life or perform emergency medical care, employing the skills they learned as part of their junior program training. These lessons and skills will stay with them the rest of their life. Even if they don’t stay in the department for a long time or ever serve as a firefighter again, they still can use them whenever needed.
Volunteer fire departments are filled with members who have a variety of talents, abilities, personalities, education levels, and life experiences. Many of them become great role models for the junior members and a source of inspiration and guidance. They may even help a junior member deal with personal problems or who has come from a broken home.
Our local communities benefit from these programs as well. The youth are provided with a safe, protective setting, and parents can be comforted by the fact that their children are at the firehouse doing great things with great mentors and role models as opposed to being elsewhere succumbing to youthful temptations that might not be in their best interest. As I used to say to the parents of our juniors or prospective juniors, “Where else would you rather have your young son or daughter be on a Friday night?”
Currently, my state is considering mandating that high school students be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Obviously, the thinking is to train as many people as possible so if an emergency occurs, there are people who know what to do and how to do it. We already discussed the great training junior members receive. I just read a story about a junior firefighter who saved the life of a drowning child by rescuing him from a pool and successfully performing CPR on him. A well-trained junior firefighter can certainly help a resident in need and contribute to a successful outcome of an emergency situation.
It’s imperative that junior programs be well-thought-out and structured. There are many resources out there that can provide guidance on developing and implementing a successful program, including the National Volunteer Fire Council. A future article will cover best practices for a junior program.
Junior Firefighting programs are a great way to engage the youth in communities and get them involved in the volunteer fire service. The junior members stand to benefit from the training and the life-long lessons they learn in the program, and these aspects may play a vital role in the continued success of a professional volunteer fire department.
Thomas A. Merrill is a 30-year fire department veteran in the Snyder Fire Department, which is located in Amherst, New York. He served 26 years as a department officer, including 15 years in the chief officer ranks, and recently completed five years as chief of department. He also is a professional fire dispatcher for the town of Amherst fire alarm office. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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