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Firefighter at 17

Hagerstown teen gives up some normal teen activities for a chance to volunteer

Hagerstown teen gives up some normal teen activities for a chance to volunteer

May 16, 2006|by MATT NEWTON

Skateboarding, video games, and hanging out at the mall occupy the free time of many Tri-State-area teens these days, but Michael Schultz would rather be battling fires with the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co.

"I didn't always want to be a firefighter," he said. "I became interested at age 15. I have friends that are involved with the fire company, and I tagged along to see what it was all about."

Now 17, Michael has an individual company certification to ride firetrucks and other emergency vehicles, and also has passed the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute 102-hour Firefighter I class. He is no longer considered probationary. He has the status of a full-fledged firefighter.

Before the 102-hour class activities are limited, said Jason Eckstine, deputy chief of Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co.

They can still go on calls, but they have to stay with the driver of the emergency vehicle during a fire. They can help clean up debris at and work on other tasks.

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But, after the class, firefighters such as Michael can go into houses and other structures with senior firefighters.

The responsibilities are many. There also are time commitments and education requirements.

"It is station policy that junior firefighters must keep up their grades to remain an active member," Michael said. "It does impact my social life when I am out with my friends and I have to leave dinner or a movie, because I have to respond to a call."

Deserting his date halfway through the evening makes a second date questionable, he said.

All of that might discourage the average teen, but Michael, a junior at North Hagerstown High School, said he has not had second thoughts about his decision.

"Helping people in the many ways that we do was the driving force behind my decision to become involved," he said. "Certainly saving lives is a very important part of what we do. I do hope that I have the opportunity to save lives during my time as a volunteer.

"People are so grateful for even the slightest bit of service or help that we provide them. It might be a routine medic call for us but not for the family who has a loved one in distress. We are able to provide emotional support and reassurance to the family as well as the medical part of the job."

And so it is his passion and pride in what he does that motivates him. He said he has formed friendships with the firefighters at the station. He said he has even convinced some of his school friends to become volunteer firefighters.

"A large part of my social circle has become firefighters from Station 27 and other fire stations," Michael said. "I was taken under the wing of so many senior firefighters and especially by firefighter Scott Adams ... who has been a mentor."

Someday Michael would like to become an officer at the station and assume more responsibility. He's unsure if firefighting will become his career, but he does know that he wants to actively continue as a volunteer at his firefighting company.

"You'll never know whether you like firefighting unless you get out there and try it," he said. "I highly recommend it."

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