Local volunteer fire departments are giving youths who have an interest in fire service a chance to get an early start.
Through local junior firefighter programs, youths can learn the ins and outs of how a fire department works, train to become a firefighter, learn about career paths related to firefighting and find out what it means to serve a community.
Dylan Sweet, 16, of Mayfield, was talking about a car accident with his grandfather a couple years ago when he suggested Dylan go with him to the fire department one night.
After that, Sweet kept going to the fire department and has been visiting since 2012 as a participant in the Mayfield Fire Department’s Junior Firefighter program.
Sweet said he plans to become a firefighter or state trooper.
In the junior program, he gets the chance to work alongside state troopers.
“It’s a good program,” Sweet said.
“We teach them it’s very gratifying to help the community,” said Peter Wilcox, commissioner of the Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department.
Junior firefighter guidelines and requirements vary among departments. The one thing that’s the same in all junior programs is the youths cannot be placed in hazardous situations.
In Mayfield, children ages 14 to 17 can join the Junior Firefighter Program, Wilcox said. They have to live in the fire district. When they turn 18, they can apply to become a regular volunteer member.
Wilcox urges youths who are interested in the program to attend the Monday night meetings at 6:30 p.m. at the fire department.
After children are accepted into the Mayfield program, a supervisor helps them with training, handles their paperwork and keep them on the right track, Wilcox said.
Children must have passing grades at school to stay in the program, Wilcox said. They must respond to a certain number of calls per year, complete required training and do 40 hours of in-house training at the department.
Junior firefighters can help at calls on a limited basis and can help with equipment gathering and setting up, Wilcox said. The youths cannot be exposed to anything graphic such as the scene of a serious car accident.
Currently, Mayfield has three junior firefighters.
The New York State Firemans Association offers a higher-education reimbursement program for volunteer firefighters.
John D’Alessandro, deputy volunteer programs coordinator for the association, said teens who are considered an active participant in the junior program can apply for the Higher Education Learning Plan, which pays for classes at New York community colleges or online classes at Empire State College.
The Broadalbin-Kennyetto Volunteer Fire Department also has a junior program.
“It’s a great way to start,” Fire Chief Scot Hall said.
Youths can join the program there at age 16. Currently, there are two junior firefighters in the program.
A lot of children join the program through word of mouth, Hall said. The department has mentioned the program during fire prevention classes and career days at schools.
Becoming a junior firefighter enables youths to learn about teamwork and how the department runs, and opens up doors to careers, Hall said.
Hall, who has been part of the fire department since he was 13, helped create the junior firefighters program at his department around 1994.
Children can apply or get more information on Mondays at 7 p.m. at the department, Hall said.
Tom Groff, Northville Volunteer Fire Department chief, said children can join the program at his department at age 16. The department has four junior firefighters.
Youths interested in joining can go to the Northville department’s Monday meetings at 7 p.m.
At the Perth Volunteer Fire Department, youths don’t have to live in Perth to join the Explorers or junior firefighter programs, said Perth Chief Pete Watrobski.
Children can join the Boy Scout Explorers program at age 14. The department offers a special night for Explorers every Wednesday.
Explorers observe training, and learn first aid and about the equipment, Watrobski said.
To be in the junior firefighter program at Perth, youths must be at least age 16, Watrobski said. Junior firefighters get the chance to participate in training and can help firefighters.
Watrobski said the age requirement to become a firefighter at Perth is 18, but the department is looking into changing this so junior firefighters can stay in the program until they turn 20.
Youths interested in joining can attend the Monday meetings at 6 p.m. at the department, he said.