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Academy used to recruit future firefighters

August 01, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin County graduated its third class of junior firefighters Saturday, concluding the weeklong training academy that is among the county's many recruitment and retention efforts.

With most of Franklin County served by volunteer fire companies, the academy helps to build interest in the critical community service at a young age, instructor Clyde Thomas said.

"Recruitment is big, but retention is bigger," Thomas said. "This academy helps us train future volunteer firefighters who hopefully will stay with this as adults."

The 2009 Franklin County Junior Firefighter Training Academy welcomed 28 cadets between the ages of 14 and 17 to train at the Franklin County Public Safety Training Center and learn the skills needed for fire and rescue.

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Organizer Tim Ebersole said the academy is unique in Pennsylvania because it is the only weeklong training for junior firefighters.

While the cadets were smiling at graduation, Ebersole said the week was not all fun and games.

Starting at 8 a.m. and continuing into the evening, the cadets studied and learned many of the skills and habits necessary to serve as a firefighter, he said.

Upon completing the academy, each cadet hopefully will have a basic understanding of fire and rescue operations as well as a desire to continue in the field, Thomas said.

To keep the teens interested, Thomas fostered a sense of healthy competition by allowing teams to compete in a variety of skills.

The cadets demonstrated those skills to family and friends Saturday with a challenge exhibition.

In pairs, they scrambled to quickly don their gear, climb a ladder, and drag and spray a fire hose.

Junior firefighters are not permitted to enter a burning building until age 18, but everything they learned at the academy will serve them if they choose to volunteer or make fire fighting a career, Ebersole said.

A firefighter must be both mentally and physically fit, cadet Brandon Shinn said.

Brandon, 16, said the instructors emphasized not only physical fitness through daily training, but mental fitness with constant "reality checks" and reminders of the danger and responsibility that comes with rescue work.

"They told us that one day, we would experience the death of a company member or someone we are trying to help," he said. "They told us this so we could know it and get ready for it someday."

The junior firefighter training academy is able to operate thanks to sponsors.

Individual fire companies sponsor the students, Ebersole said, adding for the first time, every company in the county sent at least one cadet.

"There is tremendous community support for what we are doing," he said.

Ebersole counted 50 sponsors for the 2009 academy, including civic organizations and local businesses.

The academy only accepts 30 Franklin County teens each year, he said. Anyone interested in participating next year can apply through their local fire department.

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