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Teens learn on the job with Pa. firefighters

April 06, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Julie Knott and Scott McNew are both 18, attend vo-tech school, are volunteer firefighters and know they want to turn professional.

To reach their goals, they enrolled in the protective services curriculum at Franklin County Area Vocational Technical School. Both are finishing up a six-week internship with the Letterkenny Army Depot Fire Department.

Internships give students hands-on training in firefighting, police work or emergency medical services, the three careers taught in the curriculum. There are about 40 students enrolled in the curriculum.

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Every year, seniors intern in area police, fire or emergency services departments for six weeks.

For Knott and McNew, that meant learning some basics on the job working side-by-side with professional firefighters at Letterkenny. They learned first-hand the excitement, danger and ability to help others that firefighters experience. They also learned that the job has some downsides - hours spent on fire and safety inspections, the routine tasks and boredom of waiting around for something to happen. They learned, too, that there's a lot of weekend, night and holiday work in all three fields.

"They've been doing all that we do here every day," said Dan Byers, chief of the fire department which protects the 19,000-acre Letterkenny military base. "Each student is assigned a member of the department one-on-one to do whatever that person is doing that day. They go on emergency fire and ambulance calls, on fire and sprinkler inspections and help issue permits," he said. "They've been a big help here."

Knott, a volunteer with the Waynesboro, Pa., Fire Department said that, for instance, she went on a tanker run to a barn fire.

"You get to learn a lot more than if you were just in class," said McNew, a volunteer with the Chambersburg, Pa., Fire Department. "You work with people and you see the differences between fire departments," he said.

Knott said firefighting is more technical and requires more knowledge than the other two careers.

"You need a science degree to work in this field today," Byers said. McNew and Knott said they will enroll in associates degree programs after high school.

McNew and Knott were the first vo-tech students to intern at Letterkenny.

Byers said he likes the program and wants others to follow. "It's an advantage to them and to us," he said.

"They're good kids," said Lee Mowlers, a Letterkenny firefighter for 18 years and one of the mentors to McNew and Knott. "They were both really eager to learn," he said.

Robert Strunk heads up the protective services curriculum at the vo-tech school. "It helps them to pick out a career, it gives them background beyond the classroom and it's a springboard to higher education," he said.

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