Building the future.
That’s what local fire departments aim to do, raising the next generation of firefighters through junior fire programs.
Just outside Newton Township’s fire station, five Licking County teens clad in fire protective gear spent a recent Sunday evening learning how to safely extinguish an intentionally set fire inside a burn barrel. They took turns spraying the flames using a variety of mixtures under the direction of program coordinator Todd Smith.
According to Smith, their junior fire program dates back to the late 1980’s. Smith said the department’s previous fire chief, Jim Glover, spearheaded the program.
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“He knew the value of getting people in and getting them interested early,” Smith said. “When that was going on, this was strictly a volunteer department, so to get that young interest in it and get them started as a teenager and then after they were able to become a firefighter, you had them dedicated. They were interested and they were dedicated and they were loyal to this department.”
Smith estimated at least 20 have gone through the program and went on to serve at Newton Township. Others have moved on and are working full-time at other fire departments. Currently, the program has five participants around the ages of 13-14.
Newton’s program recently re-started after garnering some interest from area firefighters’ children. Smith said the kids have learned about protective equipment firefighters wear, done air pack drills, and learned about grass trucks and the equipment they hold.
Smith said he hopes to schedule a CPR and first aid class for the teens. And as the weather gets warmer, he hopes they can get Newton’s fire trucks out and teach the teens about their equipment and how to draft water from portable tanks.
According to Smith, the teens recently attending a landing zone lecture put on by MedFlight at Mary Ann Township’s fire department. Smith said he hopes they can help with water supply in upcoming training with a burn trailer, and go through a search and rescue trailer in another upcoming training.
Garrett Schoults, 12, said he wanted to join the junior fire program to hang out at the department and learn about fire service. He added his father serves Newark and Thorn Township fire.
Schoults said he’s had a good experience with the program, having learned about fire extinguishers, grass fire techniques, and search and rescue.
His favorite part is “just getting to learn about the fire service and getting an early start on (his) career.”
Hunter Smith, 13, said he was interested in joining the program because his grandparents served Newton Township, along with his dad, Todd Smith, uncle, Doug Smith, and cousins.
“I enjoy it. I like doing it. I have fun doing stuff there and going around places and doing stuff at different departments,” Smith said, adding his favorite part is meeting different, and good, people.
Hunter Smith said the biggest thing he’s learned is the different types of extinguishers used to fight a fire, or learning how to assemble air bottles and use them.
Todd Smith explained because of the teens’ age, they’re not able to go on runs with the department to avoid exposing them to some of the calls fire departments see.
Smith said he believes programs like theirs help prepare teens to go through fire school later on.
“It gets them started early, sparks an interest. This gets them started a little bit earlier (than high school age). They can learn the very basics like how to put gear on,” he said. “By the time they hit fire school and are actually doing fire school, this will actually be the easy stuff. It’ll be easier for them to go through fire school because they’ve got the basic stuff down already. And it kind of shows them how much work is actually involved in being a firefighter.”
Current Newton Township Fire Chief Doug Smith said he went through Newton’s junior program at 14 for five years. That experience, he said, taught him what he wanted to do as a career and gave him a headstart on some of the things he would learn in fire school.
“As far as (preparing me for) being fire chief, it instilled a drive and the passion (for fire service),” Doug Smith said.
According to Doug Smith, several of Newton’s current members went through their junior program or through the Career and Technology Education Centers of Licking County’s firefighter program. Getting youth involved in programs like theirs, Smith said, builds the future.
Newton Township firefighter EMT Madison Farrell has served at the department for two years and previously was part of their junior program. She also serves at Thorn Township.
Farrell said her experience at Newton Township was what made her decide she wanted to join the fire service. She said it prepared her for the discipline and extra work she said she needed entering a male-dominated field.
“Before I started class at CTEC, I was shown the trucks and the daily tasks by (my friend) Scott (Smith) and Chief Glover and how the fire service is one giant family and that I should never settle for anything in the fire service, (and) always strive to be the best you possibly can,” Farrell said. “I learned that fire and EMS was my passion and I loved it the instant I stepped on the medic truck with Chief Glover and Pat Connor.”
Connor previously served as a firefighter at Newton Township, as well as Newark’s fire chief. He has since gone on to work at Plain Township as their assistant fire chief.
Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson said his department has an active junior program with one participant. Wilson said the teen, a relative of an active Licking Township firefighter, is also going through CTEC’s fire program.
Wilson said junior program participants are invited to participate in department training so they can learn hands-on. He added the kids in their program typically range from 14 to 18. He hopes the program not only gives their department experienced people, but also provides hands-on experience to the teens.
Reflecting on the Newton’s program and its teens, Todd Smith said he hopes they takeaway “a sense of pride in what they’re doing, (and) some confidence in themselves and what they can do.”
Both Newton and Licking Township are accepting additional participants for their junior programs. For more information or to sign up, contact Todd Smith at 740-745-5472 and Wilson at 740-323-0211.