Recovery

Training Never Stops for Young Firefighters

The fire department and the Boy Scouts of America have sponsored the Firefighting Explorer Program for more than a decade.

by Patrick Buchnowski, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. / January 29, 2018

(TNS) - The next generation of volunteer firefighters busted open a door at the Richland Township fire station during a recent training session.

A group of junior firefighters from Richland and Adams townships worked with adult volunteers.

“We’re training today in forcible entry techniques on doors using hand tools,” said truck Capt. Christopher Meyers. He is the son of Richland fire Chief Wes Meyers.

“If there is a fire in a building or a water line break in a house and the doors are locked and there’s no one home, we may have to break a door to save a life or save property,” Christopher Meyers said. “The training never stops.”

Nathan Askey, 15, and Tyler Guizio, 17, are junior members of the Richland Fire Department.

They are part of the Firefighting Explorer Program. The fire department and the Boy Scouts of America have sponsored the program for more than a decade.

The junior program is open to boys and girls ages 14 to 17. Training classes are offered weekly from January to June, Chief Meyers said.

The training can be intense, said Tyler Guizio, the son of veteran firefighter Christopher Guizio.

“We learn search-and-rescue techniques and responsibilities at a fire scene,” he said. “It teaches you responsibility because you have to show up for training to get the proper knowledge. When you get on a fire scene, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Not all juniors have relatives in the fire service.

Nathan Askey said he became a junior firefighter after watching a television show.

“Honestly, I was watching ‘Chicago Fire,’ “ he said. “I decided to come up here and tour the station. I talked to the people and signed up.

“I’m getting experience instead of just sitting at home.”

Chief Meyers is impressed with Nathan’s commitment.

“Nathan came in by himself,” he said. “For someone to walk in off the street and say, ‘I want to be a firefighter,’ that’s fantastic.”

The junior members follow strict guidelines. They can support the firefighters at a fire scene but their duties are limited. Junior members also have responsibilities that go beyond the fire station.

“Our explorer program is no different than any sports program at school,” Chief Meyers said. “If your grades are suffering, you can’t come to the fire station. It’s school first and the fire service second.”

Christopher Meyers said the adult members are always willing to work with the juniors.

“I’ve helped so many kids with math homework,” he said. “We’re like a second family to a lot of these kids.”

Young people grow up quick in the fire service, Christopher Meyers said.

“It makes the kids more mature,” he said. “There are a lot of 16-year-olds here who are more mature than some 25-year-olds I know.”

Fire companies try to recruit youth members who also bring in their friends. They train together, work together – and when adult members retire, the next generation is ready to step in.

St. Michael fire Chief Paul Kundrod looked on as six of his junior members went through drills.

“We’re in a good cycle right now,” Kundrod said. “When you have a group of kids join together and train together, it works out well.”

Chief Meyers said the junior members learn and work their way up through the ranks.

“The biggest issue is getting them to learn everything we have – trucks, rescue vehicles and engines,” he said. “But if you get them when they are young, they absorb more than we do at our age.”

Tye Porada, 20, knows the program well.

A fourth-generation firefighter, Porada said he grew up through the ranks after beginning in the junior program when he was 14. Now he is a live-in member at the Richland station, and hopes to land a paid position in the eastern part of the state or in Maryland.

“I absolutely love it,” he said. “You do everything from rescuing ducks out of sewers to pulling a guy out of a burning house. People’s lives are at stake.”

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.

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