Here they have an opportunity to get more hands-on experience, he said, adding that everything taught is age appropriate and safe.
“They come here to learn the basics of firefighting, engine company operations, truck company operations, search and rescue, but the biggest thing we teach is teamwork and teambuilding,” Petrarca said.
This is Tyler Thompson’s second year at the academy, and he couldn’t think of a better way to spend his time.
“I really enjoyed it last year,” said the 15-year-old who volunteers with Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue Squad in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. “I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter."
From the day he saw an accident in front of his house a few years ago, he knew he wanted to help people.
He said junior firefighters are limited and kind of stand on the sidelines until they get older. But at the academy he learned a lot of things that he can use later.
It was Zachary Gallagher’s late uncle who inspired him to become a volunteer firefighter.
Zachary, 16, of Union Bridge, Md., said he joined the New Windsor Fire Department to help others.
“I just want to help save people’s lives in any way that I could and assist people,” he said. “Everything that I’ve learned — how fire works, how to run hoses, how to break in doors — has been very, very valuable.”
Volunteerism is decreasing across the state, Petrarca said. Even the numbers for this year’s academy were down compared to last year.
Petrarca is hoping that introducing a young person to fire service will lay the foundation for a longtime volunteer.
“Volunteers are important for the community and we’re hoping that by starting the foundation young it will make an impact with them. Also, we’re hoping if we teach the proper firefighting techniques here that will stay with the young people if they pursue a firefighting career,” he said.
Alex Kulish, 16, of Sabinsville, Pa., said everything that he learned at the weeklong academy would help him protect the community.
Alex is a third-generation firefighter with the Clymer Township Volunteer Hose Co. Department 16.
“It gives me a sense of pride knowing that I’m doing something that not a lot of kids my age do,” he said. “I think everybody should have to do a little bit of volunteer work.”
During Saturday’s graduation ceremony, participants will earn a certificate from the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association for their completion of the academy and a plaque.