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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Firefighters of the future

Training high school students in fire and EMS skills can be valuable from several perspectives

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: A high school in Pennsylvania plans to offer "Orientation to Fire Service" beginning in January to students in grades 10 through 12 who are at least 16 years of age. Check out Chief Adam K. Thiel's thoughts on the benefits it could bring below.

This story is a great example of much-needed efforts to develop the true "next generation" of fire and emergency services personnel (volunteer and career).

Programs like this one in Pennsylvania are in place across the United States, but there are not enough to build a robust pipeline of future firefighters and EMS providers.

Training high school students in fire and EMS skills can be valuable from several perspectives.

  • Obviously, as in this case, students can become volunteers to support local departments' activities. ("Junior firefighters" under 18 years of age may be subject to state labor regulations and other legal requirements; regardless, it's important to provide extra attention to these members' safety, carefully establish expectations, and clearly define responsibilities.)
  • For career departments, high schools provide ready access to a pool of future recruits who may not otherwise consider the fire and emergency services an employment option.
  • Whether or not students decide to get involved beyond taking the class, building an awareness of "who we are" and "what we do" is extremely helpful in developing a well-informed community.

I remember speaking several years ago at a graduation ceremony for a high school program here in Virginia.

A mother told a story about how her son had "lost his way" and become a poor student who wasn't interested in school; until he discovered the fire and EMS program.

His grades (in all classes) remarkably improved, he joined the local volunteer fire department, enrolled in community college, and was set on becoming a career firefighter.

Enough said...

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel FireRescue1's editorial advisor is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.



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