By Adam K. Thiel
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.