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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Pownal Valley Fire Department Launches Junior Program

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, June 28, 2005

At 16 years old, Jeff Miller is a member of the Pownal Valley Fire Department Junior Firefighter Program, and the owner of Jeff Miller Lawn Care Services.
Pownal, Vt. – At 16 years old, Jeffrey Miller is already showing ambition and drive. The Mount Anthony Union High School junior has launched his own independently operated lawn care business and secured several clients. And recently, Miller became the first member of the Pownal Valley Volunteer Fire Department’s Junior Firefighter program. As a junior member of the fire department, Miller will learn firefighting essentials and will likely qualify as a full-fledged senior firefighter when he reaches 18 years old.

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” Miller said during a June 27 interview at the department’s Route 7 firehouse. “I like the idea of learning this stuff.”

Something Positive

Fire department Capt. Joel Howard said he believes that there are more town youth willing to follow in Miller’s footsteps and join the program. Howard is the force behind the resurrected Pownal Valley program, which launched earlier this month. The program is open to males and females between 12 and 17 years old, and is designed to foster a sense of responsibility, community service, and self-confidence.

There are rules and expectations as well as education and service learning opportunities, Howard said.

“There are lots of young kids in town with nothing to do and this gives them a chance to be part of something positive that assists the community,” Howard said.

Junior firefighters will receive firefighting gear – protective coats, helmets, boots and pants – and pagers as part of the training program. There is no cost for the items but if a member drops out of the program, the items must be returned to the fire department.

Building Leadership

Training includes learning how to set up and operate firefighting equipment, memorizing communication protocols, including the “10 code,” how to maintain and clean equipment and fire trucks, the correct technique for wearing and using breathing gear such as face masks and air tanks, and other firefighting components. Junior members will practice with senior members during regularly scheduled drills. Four or five senior firefighters will serve as advisors to the junior members, Howard said.

Leadership is included in the program mission, Howard said. As the membership increases, the juniors will be encouraged to elect their own group officers and hold meetings of their own.

“We’d like to give them the opportunity to build their own program, handle fundraisers, and manage the organization,” Howard said. “This is not a baby-sitting program, this is about skill building, education, fire prevention, community service and leadership. It is an opportunity to accomplish something and it’s also a chance to develop a whole new family of friends.”

Grades Matter

The program is free and there is no membership limit. A six-month probation period is required, in part so that members can be certain that they want to continue, are willing to learn the skills, and have an opportunity to meet the department’s academic requirements.
Written permission from parents is required before membership can be granted, and any program member must maintain a minimum 70 average in all school classes, Howard said.

“When school is in session, we will need to see report cards,” he said. “Education is a top priority.”

To that end, junior members will not be allowed to go to fire calls during school days, and will not be permitted at the fire station after 9 p.m. on school nights, except for weekly Monday night meetings if their presence is required for learning purposes. Junior firefighters are never permitted to enter a burning structure but they are able to go to a fire scene and offer support services to senior firefighters. Juniors are prohibited from going to motor vehicle crash scenes in their fire department capacity, Howard said.

“We don’t think they need that at their age and there’s no purpose served by them going to a crash scene,” he said.

Use the Tools, Build the Skills

The program can help young people develop skills that are needed throughout all walks of life, Howard said.

“We feel that this can give a lot of self-confidence, help with self-esteem and show the value of community service,” he said. “There’s a lot of learning, but there’s also a lot of friendship and a big sense of accomplishment.”

Those interested in becoming a member of the Pownal Valley Fire Department Junior Program should visit the Route 7 “center station” accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on Monday evenings at 7 p.m..

Several Southern Vermont/Northern Berkshire-region volunteer fire departments host junior firefighter programs. Junior programs are offered by the Pownal Fire Protective Association at a Route 346 fire station and by the Florida [Mass.] Volunteer Fire Department.

To find out if a specific town or department offers a junior program, contact local fire department officials.

Susan Bush may be reached at 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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