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
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.