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Chiefs in Pa. looks to future with youth firefighting camp

January 29, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Almost 30 years ago, a group of young people in Franklin County, Pa., participated in a firefighting camp. It is believed that every one of those teenagers became a career firefighter, fire chief or officer within a department.

Now, the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association is looking for the same results from a similar camp scheduled July 29 to Aug. 4.

The association will be soliciting donations for the approximately $20,000 needed to ensure that any junior member in the county may participate, training coordinator Ken North said.

"They're our future," North said.

Officials hope 30 to 60 14- to 17-year-olds take part in the camp's training exercises, trips to the national and state fire academies, and lectures. One of those lectures will stress the importance of general academics in fire service, North said.

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"This year, we're just concentrating on retention of junior members," North said. If the sleepover camp goes well, next year would shift the focus to recruitment, he said.

Jim Meek, fire chief of Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., remembers joining a fire department 31 years ago, when he was 16. In recent years, he has watched membership in the junior program gain and lose popularity.

Fire departments are losing junior members to school, family and extracurricular commitments, and peer pressure, North said. The departments also must work around child labor laws that prevent youths from working with firefighting tools like saws and torches, he said.

"They can't go inside a burning building, and they can't climb ladders ... but there are other things they can do on the scene that are important," Meek said.

Work behind the scenes also is vital, according to North, who is pleased his own daughter has shown an interest in helping with bingo.

Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue Administrator Patrick Fleagle appreciates anyone who can share the responsibility of fundraising, and he plans to ask both youths and retirees to help the department.

"It's tough to ask a volunteer to run calls and raise money," Fleagle said, adding that many of the volunteers take time off from their full-time jobs and spend the day working at the firehouse.

North said a Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute study conducted several years ago reported that, without facilities or equipment taken into consideration, Franklin County would initially expend $2.5 million to replace its volunteers.

The volunteer and career firefighters are typically the ones who "pull in" junior members, while some departments recruit in schools, North said.

He urged youths interested in fire service to contact their local department, noting that insurance dictates the teenagers must belong to a department before participating in the camp.

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