Many children say they want to be firefighters when they grow up, which seems like years away. Yet, through local fire stations, youths can begin learning to serve their community at a relatively young age.
The Roxana Volunteer Fire Company is one of many continuing the decades-old tradition of welcoming high school students — both boys and girls — into a junior members program. And Roxana hosts hands-on training sessions every Tuesday night for its 10 junior members. Together, they learn emergency procedures, step by step, in a controlled environment.
For instance, firefighters led students in a vehicle extrication exercise. Using a donated car, they simulated a scene in which someone is trapped in a vehicle.
The junior members used a variety of specialty tools that break open the car and allow them to assist an injured civilian. The equipment ranged from the mighty “jaws of life” to a pen-like center punch that can break through windows. Each student got to help break into the car, by sawing the windshield, removing the roof or accessing a vehicle that was flipped upside-down.
All training exercises are taught and supervised by experienced firefighters, so junior members can comfortably learn and practice in full firefighting gear.
“You train as if you’re doing the real thing,” Assistant Chief James Apgar explained. “A lot of these guys are real young, and they take it seriously.”
On another night, the junior members practiced ladder sequences. It turns out that there is more than one way to climb a ladder.
The students learned how to safely place a ladder against a window and across a roof. Then each person maneuvered the climb while carrying equipment or even another person.
Fire Chief Andrew Johnson even demonstrated how to slide headfirst halfway down a ladder, then swing around and land on his feet.
Apgar noted that firefighting is not for everyone, but everyone can play a role within a fire company. Someone who does not wish to fight fires can help the fire police, EMTs or with fundraising efforts.
For those interested in becoming an emergency medical technician, the fire department may even sponsor EMT training.
“Everyone has room for advancement,” Apgar explained. “There’s a job for everyone.”
As they get older, the junior members can enter fire school, pass a probationary period and eventually be voted into the company after they reach 18.
Until then, the students may not enter a blaze. Instead, Apgar said they act as gofers, going to get ladders or other equipment for firefighters on the scene.
Apgar, who was once a junior member himself, explained the importance of experienced firefighters teaching younger members.
“This is our future here. We’re trying to lead them in the right directions,” he said.