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Future firefighters

Banquet to honor teens in competition

Banquet to honor teens in competition

January 16, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Standing in front of a pile of well-worn firefighting gear, 14-year-old Sean Christopher Connelly waited eagerly for Mike Gossard to yell "Go" and click his stopwatch.

When the word came, Sean and the dozen or so other boys and girls in the junior firefighting class at the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. jumped into their boots, pulled up their protective pants, adjusted the bright red suspenders, buckled up the reflective yellow jackets and donned their helmets and gloves.

"Stop," yelled Sean, signaling that he was dressed and ready to safely fight a fire. Taking 42 seconds the first time, Sean eventually shaved four seconds off his time as the exercise was repeated a half dozen times.

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Sean and his teammate, Drew DeHaven, will be honored Saturday at an annual awards banquet for coming in first in a recent junior firefighting competition. Trophies go to the top three teams that competed in a November challenge.

"We held a challenge in November and Sean's team came in (in) first place," said Gossard, a 13-year veteran Williamsport firefighter and mentor of the junior firefighting program for the past two years.

Sean and Drew, 13, ranked tops in the search and rescue and ladder-climbing exercises as well as in the maze training, all held at the Hagerstown Fire Department training grounds.

A resident of Cedar Ridge Children's Home north of Williamsport, Sean joined the class in the fall and has been attending the weekly activities since.

Sean was introduced to the program by the Cedar Ridge staff.

"He is more than deserving of this recognition," said Jeff McConnell, Sean's Cedar Ridge house father. "Sean has worked very hard and is also making the honor roll in school."

Sean said he can't remember a time when he wasn't fascinated by firefighting so he jumped at the chance to sign up for the Williamsport program.

Sean and Drew, students at Springfield Middle School, turned in the best times at the junior firefighting competition two months ago.

"The competition in November was really fun," Drew said. "I'd been through the maze before but Sean hadn't. It's a little scary the first time."

The maze is a darkened boxcar that is filled with smoke. The point of the exercise is for the junior firefighters to learn how to navigate through smoky burning buildings using senses other than vision.

Both Sean and Drew, whose father is Doug DeHaven, an assistant fire marshal with the Hagerstown Fire Department, say they want to pursue firefighting as a career.

Gossard said that is music to his ears since one of the purposes of the junior firefighting program at Williamsport is to interest young boys and girls in firefighting as a career or as volunteers when they reach the age of 16.

"This is our future," Gossard said.

Williamsport Fire Chief Will Ball said the program has been in operation for four years.

The program is supported through dues and fund-raising events, Ball said. For more information, call 301-223-9500.

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