|Photo by Melanie Parks|
Bryan Parks, 10, can't wait "to
put out a real fire" at the academy.
Ten-year-old Bryan Parks has always dreamed of being a firefighter because he wants to “help and save people.” Now he’s getting the chance to undergo real-world training in the fire service.
The Barnegat resident is one of 53 kids who will participate in the junior fire academy at the Ocean County Fire and EMS Training Center in Waretown next week. The week-long program, started this summer by the Waretown Volunteer Fire Co., aims to prime the recruits for a possible future in the fire service as well as to help promote a stimulating and educational childhood.
“As a junior fire academy in an area completely served by volunteer firefighters, the recruits have an increased opportunity to become certified firefighters in the future,” said Brent Cunningham, Waretown fire chief, who decided to organize the program so local children could experience as many aspects of the fire service as possible. “The academy is also completely run by volunteers whose sole interest is in creating a community service experience that also offers a great deal of excitement,” he added.
From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Aug. 22 through Aug. 27, the trainees will be involved in a small-scale version of the actual fire academy training that firefighters undergo. The recruits will be divided into three battalions, with each containing two engine crews, a ladder crew and a rescue crew.
“All of this adds to the realism of the training,” said Cunningham.
Though many towns, including Waretown, have a junior police academy, Cunningham said he’d never heard of a local junior fire academy, and believed it would be an “excellent idea.” He reached out to the Ocean City Fire Department, which runs a similar program in that area.
“We began the program as a way to continue our connection and growth within our community,” Cunningham said.
Parks, who “definitely” wants to be a volunteer firefighter when he’s of age, said he’s “looking forward to training like a real firefighter, and also to put out a real fire.”
“I am sure he will love every aspect of this program,” said Parks’ mother, Melanie. “I am looking forward to him being able to experience up close the hard work and dedication it takes to be a firefighter in our community.”
Parks and his fellow recruits will obtain instruction in fire behavior, basic first aid, search and rescue and fire suppression. Responsibility, personal accountability and the structure of the fire service will also be discussed. A presentation will be offered each day by special guest organizations, including the state police, New Jersey Forest Fire Service and Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office, among others. At the end of the academy the trainees will attend graduation at the firehouse.
Cunningham hopes the academy will inspire other volunteer fire companies to start their own junior fire academy.
“In the volunteer fire service, it seems like too daunting of an undertaking to put something like this together, but it truly is capable of happening,” he stated. “As a teacher, I strongly feel that anything that can be given to the community, especially in the summer months, to educate and entertain the students is a huge positive that produces the sort of growth that we should all seek.”
The junior fire academy is open to all area children who are entering fourth through sixth grades. If interest continues, Cunningham hopes to hold an additional program week for older kids next year.
— Kelley Anne Essinger
This article was published in The SandPaper.