Teens attend fire academy

PAT FRIDGEN
Brandon Shinn, Alexandra Gladhill and Makaylyn Leister get adult experiences in a controlled setting during the Junior Fire Academy for Franklin County teens.

The 2009 Franklin County Fire Chief’s Association annual Junior Firefighter Academy is underway this week at the Franklin County Public Safety Training Center. Tucked down a gravel road amid cornfields, cadets from across the county are at the center learning about different aspects of fire service, including fire behavior, engine company operations, truck company operations and an accountability system. They will receive their American Heart Association First Aid and CPR certification. They will also go on a tour of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.

Three Greencastle youth from the Rescue Hose Company No. 1 Jr. membership program chose to spend a warm summer week donning firefighting gear, partaking of hands-on experiences and gaining a broad education of the opportunities to serve as an adult member of a fire department.

Sophomores Makaylyn Leister 15, Alexandra Gladhill 15, and Brandon Shinn 16, say their motivation is to give back to the community.

"We want to get more experience to be firefighters.  When we are old enough to help fight, we'll have experience," said Makaylyn. She and Alexandra have been involved at the RHC for a year, and Brandon for over two. That activity is required by Franklin County youth ages 14 to 17 to participate in the academy.

Clyde Thomas, training coordinator for the Franklin County Fire Chief's Association, is in charge again for the academy's third year. It is limited to 30 teens. "That's a manageable number," he said. He has a staff of 10 involved all week, and various fire companies help on particular days, also bringing in apparatus.

"It's a popular program," he continued. "We offer variety to keep their interest in serving. It's hard to keep volunteers these days. The academy is a taste of everything. It's part of our volunteer retention."

From July 26 to August 1 the cadets are kept on the move. They sleep on cots in one of the buildings at the training center, located at 3075 Molly Pitcher Highway. Between wake up at 6 a.m. and lights out at 11 p.m., the crew is kept busy with physical fitness exercises, demonstrations, classes, discussions, and participating in real life situations.

All put on turnout gear, including a helmet, bunker pants and jacket, and boots to view a fire in the burn building. They saw the thermal layers as they learned how a fire behaves. The protective clothing kept them safe, but "it's pretty heavy," Makaylyn said.

There is also time set aside for recreation, and some of the meals hosted by various fire companies in the county. The students had spaghetti in Greencastle Monday night.

The cadets will graduate Saturday and then show their families some of the skills they learned during a firefighter competition.

Alexandra plans a career in firefighting. Makaylyn wants to become a massage therapist and Brandon to join the Air Force, but they expect to continue  volunteering for emergency services.