I know of a few departments around me who don’t let their juniors do anything, and by anything I mean throwing ladders, stretching lines, hitting a hydrant…You know, the basic things every firefighter should be 100% efficient at.
Up at my company, we look at juniors as the future of our company. They are involved in meetings, drills, hall rentals, cleaning. Everything a senior member can do at the station, a junior member can also.
I’m from a company in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, called Munhall Volunteer Fire Company #5. We run a Tower-Ladder, an Engine, and a Squad. In our borough, we have four different stations, one located at each end, and two in the middle. I can’t say we are a busy company, but every time we go to a call, we do it quick, proficient, and right. I really can’t stress enough about having a junior program in your stations. When I first started out, I was 14. I joined a company in the hometown I lived in, and it was called Whitaker. They ran two Engines, a Squad, and a Foam Unit. I fell in love with it the first day I joined. My dad was and still is the Assistant Chief there, and he helped me get through everything tremendously. If it weren’t for them having that junior program, I would’ve never had as much passion for the fire service as I do now.
After two years, I moved on down the street to the station I’m currently at. I joined when I was 16, and right when I joined they only allowed members 16 and up. But a few months had passed, and we changed our by-laws and are now able to allow members to join at 14. That was by far the best decision our company has ever made. We currently have seven junior members. I was the 8th, but I just recently turned 18 and have become a fully active member. When I was a junior, we had a junior officer line. I was the Junior Chief, my buddy Jake was the Captain, and the Chief’s son was the Lieutenant. Being able to already hold an officer position at that age was like winning an Emmy.
You must be thinking, “Oh, okay, they just had a title…” No, we had duties and responsibilities to handle by ourselves.
Me being the Junior Chief, my duty was to train the juniors up to my level and make sure they know the ins and outs of the fire hall. I was a pretty educated kid at that age, and I had my brother and my two uncles help me out along the way. Several times at drill, they put me as the lead guy, the front man, the role model for the other juniors to look up too. When I first started this, I would always wonder why they put a 16-year-old up on stage to teach the SENIOR guys. It took me two long years to realize why. The only way you are going to better yourself is by trying to better other people. If it weren’t for this junior program, I wouldn’t be as smart or as trained as I am right now.
When I teach at our weekly drill, I look at it from a junior’s perspective. I can see what they do and don’t understand; I was in their shoes for 99% of my time so far. No matter what we do at drill, the juniors do the same. When we cut holes in our simulator, they are right there doing the same thing. They watch us, then they do it. When they do it, we go step-by-step with them, making sure they don’t mess up, but when they do, we reassure them it’s okay. When you’re training, that is the time to make those mistakes. You learn a lot more from the mistakes than doing it right.
Many people criticize and bash juniors for being untrained “whackers.” Well, start training them. Get them involved with EVERYTHING. Every single time you’re at the station with them, go over the trucks, throw ladders, pull some lines, learn what every tool does and their names, learn the role of the officers, learn the different truck and engine duties. Teach every single junior how you would want someone coming to your house at 3 in the morning for a working fire. After all, those juniors will fill your shoes one day.
If you don’t have a junior program or you don’t train your juniors because they aren’t certified, then step up. Make a difference in a young person’s life and be their role model. Be the one that when they say they first started out, you helped them. There is no better feeling in this world than making someone’s life better, if you don’t think that is true, you’re in the wrong line of work. Every time you go to a call and see an elderly woman standing in her doorway telling you guys that the fire alarm was an accident, you check to make sure, and you smile and say have a good night to her. You just made her feel safer and one of the happiest people in this world. She now knows that when trouble occurs, people that have never even met her will drop ANYTHING to save her and that my friends is one of the greatest feelings you can have. Do not take this job lightly. Train, stay fit and treat everyone fairly. Just remember, you were a junior at one point in time also. Make sure all your other juniors act in the same manner of courtesy to that elderly woman, as you did.
– Jonathan Scripp
Munhall VFC #5
Do you ever stop and think how your actions will affect someone in 20 years? Has it ever crossed your mind that just one thing you did today could be the defining moment in someone’s life? Would you believe that a simple firehouse tour and a hot wheels fire truck could put a spark in a kids heart that will last their entire life? I will tell you first hand, it happened to me. At a young age, I took an interest in being a fireman as most kids do. I had the usual toys and fireman costume that you would find in most homes. But unlike most kids, I never grew out of my fireman phase. My parents, seeing that this wasn’t just a typical childhood dream, stoked the fire that was building in me.
While my father was in the Marine Corps, he became friends with a Marine who happened to be a local volunteer fireman. They got together and worked it out so we would come take a tour of the fire house. Little did he know that his actions that day would set the course for my future. From that day forward, my desire and passion for this job grew and grew. Every time a fire truck would pass us in the car, I was glued to the window. I stared in awe as they raced by, lights and siren wailing. I had a fireman themed birthday, complete with an engine company from the local fire department. My parents went as far as buying a Dalmatian, and of course we had to name him Pongo. There was no doubt that this kid was going to be a fireman.
Unfortunately, as quick as my mentor came into my life, he would soon be leaving. Both my father and he were retiring from the Marine Corps, and our paths would not cross again for many years. But before he left, he invited my parents to a farewell party. I don’t remember much of the party due to my fascination with his fire memorabilia he had in his office. The only time I was drawn away was when his pager went off for a call. Then I was glued to the front door as I watched him drive away. Once he returned, I was so excited to hear what happened that I bombarded him with questions before the front door even closed. But as fate would have it, all good things must come to an end. Before we left, he went into his office and took a small silver fire truck off the shelf. He handed it to me and with a smile he said, “Here Buddy, I want you to have this.”
I still have that toy fire truck to this day.
Fast forward about 20 years and the impact from that day is still going strong. I got my first taste for the job when I joined my local Explorer post. I learned that it took a lot of hard work, long hours and sometimes sleepless nights to be a fireman. But I loved every minute of it. During my time as an Explorer, I was so influenced by another fireman that the flames were raging in my heart. He is a 20 plus year veteran and currently a Captain. He would be the one to teach me the love for the job and all of it’s traditions. He taught me how the old-timers did things and never missed an opportunity for a history lesson. But the one thing that stands out the most is the day he told me I would make a good fireman. Some may see this as just a small compliment and think nothing of it, but for me, it meant the world.
Eventually my time as an Explorer came to an end, and I joined my local volunteer fire department. I’ve been volunteering since 2012 and have worked hard to learn my job and make a good reputation for myself. Some point along the way I made the transition from little brother to big brother. I am the guy many of the new rookies come to for advice. I can see that they have listened to my rants on taking pride in your work. I can see it in how they store their gear or how they load hose. They are becoming good firemen.
Our actions on a day to day basis can have lasting effects for a lifetime. Are you that big brother your rookie looks up to? Will you be the fireman that the little kid remembers 20 years from now who sparked their desire to be a firefighter?
Special thanks to my parents who always supported my dream to become a firefighter. To Lt. Lenny Stoleburg for being the one who started me on my journey and Capt. Jeff Kerley for teaching me what it means to love the job. Without you, none of this would be possible.
The Spartans raised their children to be warriors. From birth, they were tested and trained to become masters in the art of warfare. We have an opportunity to raise the next generation of fire service warriors through the Explorer program. The Explorer program is a branch of the Boy Scouts of America and is for young adults ages 14-21 who have an interest in the fire service. This program gives them a first-hand look at the daily lives and tasks of what this job is all about. We have an opportunity to train the next generation to the standards that are slowly fading from our culture. As the Spartans did, we need to take the culture and values we live by and pass it on.
My time as an Explorer was probably the most important training I could ever have in my career. It set the foundation for me as I made my way from Explorer to Volunteer Firefighter. I then began my career with the department who sponsored my Explorer post. Being an Explorer taught me about brotherhood. It taught me the culture of the fire service. Learning these values early was key in developing my love for the job. I will never forget my first working fire. All the excitement of finally getting to use what I have learned and the chance to learn more. And it sure was a learning experience. After changing bottles, a lengthy lesson in overhaul, and taking up hose, I was beat. I got a good look at what my future was going to be. I was dirty, tired, and loved every second of it. I’m forever grateful to the officers and firefighters who have taught me what it is to be a firefighter.
The Explorer program is also an excellent option for volunteer departments. This program is great for recruitment and retention. A department can take a handful of young adults, train them to their standards, and by the time they become eligible for membership, they are ready to work. You will be able to see who is going to be a benefit to the department or who is going to be a headache.
The Explorer program is where the pride and love of this job starts. The pay-off for departments is that they get to train potential employees to their standards. For the guys on the job, it’s a way to teach them to not just do the job, but to truly love it. And for the Explorers, it gives them not only good training, but a sense of pride and belonging.
So go forth, and raise the next generation of firefighting warriors.
Growing up, I got to see what the fire service is really like. I can remember my first ride in a fire truck with my dad when he was a Lieutenant. I remember the adrenaline rush that I felt as my dad would blast the Federal Q, and drive me around the block. The feeling that I can’t wait till I’m older, and I get to sit backwards and go to a fire one day. I will never forget that awesome feeling that I had inside of me that day.
As I grew older, I joined the Fire Explorers when I was 14. My love for the fire service grew tremendously. I always looked forward to going to every Thursday night meeting and getting to learn about the fire service, and how it began. I didn’t only learn how to operate the tools, flow water, do a search, or run EMS calls. I learned about the brotherhood. What an awesome feeling it was to know that I have a second family that is always there to support me. A family you can come talk to when there are problems at home. A family you can have fun with and spend time with each other’s families and kids. And most importantly, a family that will always have your back at your worst moment in life. Growing up with my father in the fire service and being an Explorer with the same department he was at, I was able to see how a brotherhood was really supposed to be.
As I graduated high school and moved onto fire school, I was able to establish a greater brotherhood with my classmates of Class 1102. Sharing memories together, constantly studying, and going through the toughest parts that fire school had to offer. After graduating fire school and getting hired on the job, I started noticing a change. The brotherhood didn’t seem to all be there. I noticed that some people only want this job for the money, and not for the love of the job and helping others in their community. I also noticed that some of our own brothers and sisters don’t even care about each other. It’s sad to think where the fire service started and where it’s at today, when it comes to the fraternity of the fire service. It’s like we are one giant soap opera, just one
issue after the other. People always complaining about policy and procedures, brothers and sisters talking about other brothers and sisters, and even going behind each other’s back’s and back-stabbing one another. I started to become sick to my stomach when I started seeing what was really going on and it saddens me to see that it has come this far.
Brothers and Sisters,
It’s time to wake up and realize what this career is really about. This isn’t just some job you come to because of the money and the benefits. This isn’t a job where you can come to work and cause mischief and turmoil amongst each other and tear each other down. This is a LIFESTYLE, a CAREER, that is much bigger than some “soap opera”, or some job that you think you’re getting great benefits from. When you choose this profession you better be all in, or nothing. This is a career, a lifestyle, that you live day-in and day-out and devote a third of your life too. Come into work and love to be where you’re at. Love this job and train to become the best at your profession. If professional athletes can train every day to become good at what they do and love their job at the same time, then so can we. We have to train like a professional athlete and become better every single day and not just sit around on a recliner and hope you’ll do it right when the public really needs you. Ignore the Soap Opera, ignore the negativity, ignore the ignorance that people have towards this career and become the 1% who will go out and make a difference in the fire service and show others how great this career really is. Join the movement and take pride back in your station and your career. Show the weak and broken that this is the best job in the WORLD!
– Christopher Intartaglio