N.H. FD sees success with junior firefighter program
Plaistow’s program was launched in Oct. 2022 and has seen its number of junior firefighters more than double
By Angelina Berube
PLAISTOW, N.H. — The Plaistow Fire Department is giving local high school students hands-on experience that may become an answer to staffing shortages in the future.
Lt. Derek Travers started the Plaistow Junior Firefighters program in 2022 which offers high-school-aged kids an interactive class on firefighting and EMS.
Travers saw the benefits from a similar program at the West Newbury Fire Department. He decided he wanted to bring the program to Plaistow Fire and help get local kids involved in the fire service.
The program was approved by Plaistow Fire Chief Chris Knutsen and Travers started recruiting in October 2022. He started with just six junior firefighters.
There are now 17 in the program.
Young people from Plaistow, Atkinson, Salem, New Hampshire, Haverhill and the Timberlane Regional School District have taken the class since it began.
There’s also been an outpouring of support from local fire departments who have donated gear and other equipment for the students to use during training.
The class puts junior firefighters in real-world situations they’d encounter as firefighters or paramedics. Students learn everything from fire behavior by watching a live burn or how to take vitals signs and perform patient assessment.
The juniors also work ladders and hoses and put on all the gear needed to protect themselves. They will put those skills to practice when they head to Newton, New Hampshire, in an upcoming class to practice ladder work and physically entering through windows and crawling on floors.
“Any time they get to put the gear on or be hands-on, they are engaged,” Travers said.
One real-world experience for the junior firefighters came during a live burn.
The town had an old office trailer that officials were looking to get rid of. Travers put it to good use.
“We were able to burn it,” he said. “To get that kind of training and ability to do those things, that doesn’t happen often.”
“Thirteen kids showed up and 13 kids got to see the lesson on fire behavior,” Travers said. “To physically have the ability to show this stuff is so worthwhile.”
The live burn was a highlight moment for junior firefighters Ally Galvin and Keenan Hagerty.
“That whole day was about fire behavior and how fire reacts,” Hagerty said. “It took a bit to get going, but once it did you could see fire traveling. It burned the trailer down to the ground.”
“We got to do some work with the hose too,” Galvin said. “It definitely was a little scary. We were right up there with the trailer, when it was on fire. Feeling the heat was really cool.”
Both Galvin and Hagerty are seniors at Timberlane Regional High School and said they were unsure about what career path they wanted to take after school. They saw the junior firefighters program as a way to help them make a decision about their future.
After graduating, along with fellow junior firefighter Jacob Raymond, the three students will attend Lakes Region Community College in Laconia to earn an associate’s degree in fire science and complete other requirements from the New Hampshire Fire Academy.
The fire department partnered with Timberlane Regional High School this school year to offer the class as course credit as part of the high school’s extended learning opportunity program.
Hagerty, of Atkinson, is taking the program for school credit. The 17-year-old said he didn’t want to go to college undecided on a major but found a passion for the fire service.
“At first I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I’ve loved every single second of it,” Hagerty said.
He’s soaked up the experience, from learning to put on the personal protective equipment to the mentorship from Travers and other firefighters.
Now, he’s looking forward to his future and completing the two-year fire science program to become a firefighter.
The high-school senior added he’s seen his confidence and communication skills grow as he’s learned how to talk to his community and help others because of the junior firefighters program.
“I feel as though I’ve become a better person and have learned how to take care of myself,” Hagerty said.
It also showed him the power of teamwork.
“It’s a team thing,” Hagerty said. “You have to rely on somebody in this job. It’s something you can’t do alone.”
Galvin, 17, of Plaistow, joined the program last October.
Travers visited Timberlane Regional High School with another junior firefighter to promote the program and brought equipment and an ambulance.
Galvin went to Plaistow fire station later that day where Travers fitted her with gear and she signed up.
She said she’s always been interested in the medical side of the job, but a life event sparked the firefighting aspect of it when her family’s barn caught fire last summer.
“I saw how quickly Plaistow Fire was able to take care of that,” Galvin said. “The barn was attached to my house and it didn’t even get affected.”
Still, she was unsure what she wanted to do after high school.
“The more time I spent at the fire station and around the firefighters, the more I thought this is what I want to do,” Galvin said. “This program solidified what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Travers said the goal is to keep these junior firefighters engaged in their local communities in the future. He sees the program as a way to combat recruitment issues and get them in the door early.
“Fire departments are changing,” Travers said. " We don’t have enough people to fill the call volume.”
“We are trying to get more students through the program and get their education done and become members of our local fire departments,” he added.
Both Hagerty and Galvin want to work for Plaistow Fire when they are able to apply.
“It would be awesome to start my career with Plaistow and come full circle,” Hagerty said.
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