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Program preparing some to be firefighters

April 04, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - Several teens sat in a room munching on french fries and ribbing each other at about 12:30 p.m. on a Friday, enjoying the fact that they didn't have to head back to their high school classrooms that day.

That doesn't mean they were done learning for the day.

They were actually far from it.

Nine local high school students are taking part in a vocational program that puts them in local firehouses so they can prepare for a possible career in firefighting. The students take part in classes on firefighting basics or hands-on activities from 1 to 4 p.m. every school day, said Bill Davis, an instructor with the program.

Davis, a career firefighter in Cumberland, Md., and a volunteer in Frostburg, Md., said the teens in the program are finishing training at a more-rapid pace than most civilians. Among the many courses that are part of the program are Firefighter I (102 hours), Firefighter II (60 hours) and hazardous materials training (24 hours).

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"They'll be definitely ahead of anyone else applying for jobs," Davis said. "It's a very competitive field."

Davis said it is not uncommon for paid departments the size of the Hagerstown Fire Department to get 1,800 applications for 30 positions.

"I wish they had this where I was when I was a kid," Davis said.

Today, the students will take their written test to finish the Firefighter II course. Then, the students, who already are allowed to ride on firetrucks with crews during live calls, will perform weeks of field training at volunteer stations throughout the county.

"It gives them a sense of what the career would be more like - training and maintenance," Davis said.

To get there, the students have needed to do a lot more in-depth studying than they expected.

"I didn't think it'd be as much book work," said Jeff Martin, a junior at Boonsboro High School

Martin is one of several students in the class whose family has a history of firefighting.

"Just being around it, it becomes a normal thing," he said. "It's fun. You want to do something fun."

Fellow Boonsboro High School student Zach Exline, a senior, said he enrolled in the program because he wants to pursue his interest as a career. Exline explained that he was enticed to consider that career path because firefighting is something he likes and can "get paid for it, so why not?"

Robert Deener, a Boonsboro senior, is one of the students who does not have a family background in the fire service. Deener said his desire to pursue the career does not worry his family because they understand the job and "don't see it as a dangerous occupation."

"Most people don't have a clue what all goes on," Deener said.

Paul Hottinger, assistant chief of the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., where the students were reviewing for a test Thursday, said the program has already paid dividends.

"We've gotten four or five kids (volunteers) through that program. They have all their certification now, and that helps us," Hottinger said.

Hottinger said volunteer departments around the county have benefited from the program because of the efforts to recruit younger members. Hottinger said it could be the answer to the sharply dwindling number of volunteers in Washington County because most will volunteer in their off time or while they are pursing a paid position.

He said about 10 of the volunteers at Funkstown are paid firefighters with the Hagerstown Fire Department, and others work as firefighters in parts of Maryland and Virginia.

Funkstown is not the only department that has benefited from those who've pursued a career in the fire service. Departments around the county have career fire service members, including the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Department, where Hagerstown Fire Department Capt. Justin Mayhue has served as deputy chief, and the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, where Assistant State Fire Marshal Edward Ernst has served as deputy chief.

Mayhue, who teaches some parts of the program, said it is good for the volunteer companies to get new members who have a "jump-start" on training and know the basics. He said the students can do as much training in one school year as adults can do in a couple of calendar years.

"It gives these youngsters a chance to get a lot of the basic training they need to function as firefighters," Mayhue said.

He said the program "has helped and will continue to help" area departments and communities.

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