Fighters of the future

Teens volunteer with fire companies

Teens volunteer with fire companies

July 30, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When he's not at work or school, Davon Middleton is at the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., where he has been a member for about a year.

Sometimes, he spends the night at the station.

But first, he has to ask his mother.

Davon is 17 years old and a recent South Hagerstown High School graduate. He also is one of many Washington County teenagers who volunteer at their local fire departments.

After more than a year as a volunteer, Davon said he is working toward his Firefighter 1 certification, and will be a probationary member until he obtains it.

"The only difference between probationary and Firefighter 1 really is you can't go inside a burning building," Davon said.

Probationary members, junior firefighters and cadets are just a few of the names that Washington County fire departments have for their youngest members.


Davon attended all of the training courses offered by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) for the certification, and said he only was one point shy of passing the course.

Firefighter 1 training includes 102 instructional hours on basic firefighting operations.

"I'll go at it again until I get it," Davon said. "This is what I want to do."

'I want to help'

Christopher Mowen, 15, was so eager to begin his firefighting career that he started accompanying his father during his shifts at the fire station when he was only 9 years old.

His father, Ray Mowen Jr., works part time at Mount Aetna Volunteer Fire Co., where Christopher is a member.

He won't be able to take classes for his firefighter certification until he's 16, but Christopher still goes out on calls with his father.

"They call me a 'gopher,'" Christopher said. "I get their air packs and tools, whatever (the firefighters) need. Plus, with doing that, I can learn."

Christopher said his father's involvement in the fire service meant he was introduced to it at an early age. He began going to the fire station regularly at the age of 14.

After volunteering at the station, Christopher said he knows it's something that he wants to be involved with for a long time.

"I've been around it all my life," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen when. And I want to help people."

Christopher lives in Marion, Pa., but said he comes to Mount Aetna to volunteer because he has been treated like part of the family.

He wears a beeper that alerts him to emergency calls to which his station is responding.

Mike Schultz, 17, a senior at North Hagerstown High School, said as soon as he turned 16, he joined Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Co. He recently received his Firefighter 1 certification, and also is certified in CPR and hazardous materials operations.

According to MFRI, while the training for each firefighter is the same, what individual companies allow volunteers to do when they obtain Firefighter 1 training differs.

"Studying for certification is always ongoing," Mike said.

Mike said he prefers firefighting to other types of volunteer work because he is able to help people and, at the same time, has become part of the Longmeadow family.

"This is just a great experience," he said. "It's not for everyone, but if it is, you'll definitely know."

Keith Cooper, 16, of Hagerstown, said he was playing in a park across from the Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. when he was very young when he first realized he wanted to be a firefighter. Watching firefighters go in and out of the station, Keith said, he told his father he wanted to be a firefighter.

Keith later found out he had to be 14 to be involved in the station's cadet program. When he turned 14, he applied and was accepted. When he started, Keith said he spent a lot of time at the station, helping wherever he could.

He washed firetrucks and put away equipment, he said.

Watching firefighters move in and out of the station responding to emergencies was incentive for Keith to get the training he needed to join them.

"When I was 14, I was dying to get on," he said.

Now, Keith said he is able to do most things that other firefighters can do at emergency calls. And other firefighters always are willing to teach him the proper way to do things. If he does something wrong, Keith said, he is corrected, and does the task right the next time.

"It's fun knowing that on the calls I go on, I can help people," he said.

Keith said he plans to enroll in several training courses so he can increase the number of things he is able to do at emergency calls. He said he plans to enroll in a firefighter training course soon, and also might receive a basic emergency medical technician certification.

Without those courses, Keith cannot go into a burning building, and there are other restrictions about where he can be while fighting a fire, he said.

He also cannot administer medical care to victims of crashes or other accidents, Keith said.

"Since I don't have that (certification), I can hold the person's neck still and make them comfortable and talk to them," he said.

Finding time

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