WV Junior Firefighter CampBy Tom Miller


  Imagine, if you will, having the opportunity to work for a week with 135 kids, ages 14 to 18, who truly want to learn more about the fire and rescue service. Imagine, as a fire department, having access to a resource where you can send your Junior Firefighters and have them immersed for a week in a program that will allow them to experience all that the fire service has to offer – from wearing full PPE including an SCBA to learning first aid and CPR; from climbing ladder trucks and learning ropes, knots, and haul systems, to water rescue; from firefighting, ventilating, and doing search and rescue, to actually participating in live burns – one week of living the life of the fire service and all its traditions. Further, imagine a cadre of over 15 fire service instructors and counselors volunteering their time to teach and support such a program…well, it’s not imaginary – it is the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension (WVU FSE) Junior Firefighter Camp!

The WVU FSE Junior Firefighter Camp started in 2006 as an idea to build the future of the West Virginia Fire Service by giving fire departments and youth programs the opportunity to send kids for a week to a program that would allow them hands-on experience in all that the fire service is and does. Support from the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association was quickly obtained along with several corporate sponsorships. The 2006 Junior Firefighter Camp was attended by approximately 35 campers. Nine (9) years later, the 2015 Camp was attended by 135 campers from twelve (12) states and Puerto Rico. The Camp is held at the West Virginia State Fire Training Academy at Jackson’s Mill.

The Camp is designed for the first time Camper and returning Campers. First time Campers get a sampling of the various aspects of the Camp while returning Campers get to experience events like the Haz Mat Challenge and more complex search and rescue classes. The Camp stresses the core foundations of the fire service including, but not limited to: being responsible citizens, team work and accountability, respect for authority, the history of the fire service, and the role of the modern fire service in the community. Campers are assigned to Companies and Battalions and move through the week’s events as a unit – keeping Company integrity and learning their role in ensuring everyone’s safety. Companies get to elect their own Company Officer and do a poster that represents their Company and its values. On graduation day, the Campers get to vote on a Chief Officer for the Camp. The Instructors and Counselors choose a Camper who has stood out as a leader and role model as “Camper of the Year”. With so many great kids to choose from, the decisions are often difficult. All Campers get certified in First Aid and CPR and receive certificates for Community Service from the Governor of the State of West Virginia. The last night of Camp the kids get to participate in “Night burns”. This closely supervised activity allows the Campers to work together in teams to fight a “pit fire”. This event is open to the Camper’s families who observe the drill from bleachers positioned to allow a full view of the activity.

The Camp is supported by West Virginia University’s Extension Services and WVU Extension Dean, Steve Bonanno, is very active in the set-up and design of the Program. WVU Fire Service Extension Program Director Mark Lambert stated, “This is a great program – these kids are the future of the fire service and we owe it to them to allow them to experience all of this.” Deputy Chief Brian Grieco of the Huntington, WV Fire Department serves as the Operations Chief for the Camp and sets the schedule. Countless hours and time are put into preparation for the Camp, ensuring that activities go off without a hitch, and providing support to the Campers. Instructors and Counselors handle all of the issues that one could expect with such event – from arranging for travel to and from airports, to helping fit Campers with PPE, to arranging for phone calls for homesick Campers – all of this is planned for and no need goes unmet. Fire departments send their apparatus to the Camp for the students to use during activities. The West Virginia State Firemen’s Association and corporate sponsors provide scholarships to allow those who possibly couldn’t afford to attend the opportunity to be a part of this experience. It is truly a huge collaborative effort that generates real success. This year 47 of the 135 Campers were returning Campers and many of the Campers are Junior members of their local fire departments. Lanny Adkins, WVU FSE Program Coordinator has said, “The kids come in crying because they miss home and leave crying because they don’t want to leave their new friends and the Instructors…it is an amazing transformation over the week of Camp.”

Having just finished the 2015 WVU FSE Junior Firefighter Camp, planning is already underway for the 10th Annual Camp in 2016. If you would like more information on the West Virginia University Junior Firefighter Camp you can visit the WVU FSE website at: http://fireservice.ext.wvu.edu/. If you, or your organization, would like to be a sponsor of the Camp, please contact Mark Lambert, Program Director, at mark.lambert@mail.wvu.edu. You may also call the State Fire Academy at 304-269-0875.

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