By Jonathan Scripp
There are some fire departments that don’t let their juniors do many firefighting activities, such as throwing ladders, stretching line, or hitting a hydrant - the basic skills every firefighter should have. At my company, we look at juniors as the future of our department. They are involved in meetings, drills, hall rentals, cleaning - everything a senior member can do at the station, a junior member can too (within state and local regulations, of course!).
I’m a firefighter at the Munhall Volunteer Fire Company #5 in Allegheny County, PA. 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. We aren’t a busy company, but every time we go to a call, we do it quickly, proficiently, and correctly. I really can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to have a junior program in your stations. I first started as a junior firefighter at age 14with a company in my hometown of Whitaker, PA. 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 out tremendously as I got used to everything. If it wasn’t for the department having that junior program, I never would have gained the passion for the fire service that I have now.
After two years in Whitaker, I moved on down the street to Munhall. They used to only allow junior firefighters to join who were at least 16, but they have since changed it to a minimum age of 14. That was by far the best decision our company has ever made.
Although I have now turned 18 and become a full active member, we currently have seven junior members. When I was a junior, I participated in the junior officer line, which was designed to help us build leadership skills. I was the Junior Chief, my friend Jake was the Captain, and the Chief’s son was the Lieutenant. Being able to hold an officer position at that age was like winning an Emmy. It wasn’t just a title; we had duties and responsibilities to handle by ourselves.
As Junior Chief, it was my duty to train the juniors up to my level and make sure they knew the ins and outs of the fire hall. I was well-educated in the fire service at that point, and I also 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. My uncles and brother became better teachers, I became a better listener, and I become a good teacher, too. Without this junior program, I wouldn’t be as smart or trained as I am right now.
When I teach at our weekly drill, I look at it from a junior’s perspective now. I can see what they do and don’t understand; after all, I was in their shoes for 99 percent of my fire service career 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 that 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. Thanks to this practice, by the time they use the skills in a real scenario, they will be ready.
To anyone who criticizes juniors for being untrained - 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 what it’s called, learn the role of the officers, learn the different truck and engine duties. Teach every single junior like 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 firefighter program or your department doesn’t really train your juniors because they aren’t certified in anything, consider involving them more. Make a difference in the young person’s life, be their role model, be the one that they will remember helping them when they first started out. There is no better feeling in the world than making someone’s life better, and if you don’t think that is true, you’re in the wrong line of work.
Every time you go to call and see an elderly woman standing in her doorway telling your team that the fire alarm was an accident, you check to make sure and then smile and say have a good night to her. You just made her feel safer and she now knows that when trouble does occur, people that have never even met her will drop ANYTHING to go save her, and that 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 like senior firefighters by taking training seriously and taking their service to the community seriously – just like you do.
Jonathan Scripp is a volunteer at Munhall Volunteer Fire Company #5. He currently serves as secretary but previously held the position of Junior Chief and Trustee. He is certified as a firefighter, basic vehicle rescue technician, and EMT, as well as in confined space and Hazmat awareness and operations. Jonathan has won three national awards through his Air Force Junior ROTC program at his high school and a first place award for commanding a saber team at Pittsburgh's Veterans Day Parade.
Note: The NVFC does not advocate junior firefighters participating in operational activities, but developing safe training behavior and attitudes today lays the foundation for a healthier, safer fire service tomorrow. The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author’s own. For non-operational training ideas for junior firefighters, visit http://juniors.nvfc.org/training.