At the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage, the next generation of brave young firefighters were recently put through the ringer in order to give them a taste of the hardships—and pride—that await in their future careers as first responders.
The Nassau County Junior Firefighters Association boasts a membership of more than 1,200 and 45 of them were recently given the chance to participate in the opportunity of a lifetime—training as their real-life heroes do at one of the most respected firefighter training facilities in the United States. Jerry Presta of East Norwich, chairman of the association, said it was formed to bring together individual fire departments across Nassau on a regular basis.
“Junior firefighters are basically youth groups from different fire departments that come together to learn how to be a firefighter,” he said. “Eleven years ago we decided to create something to bring all of these kids together, so we formed the Nassau County Junior Firefighter Association in 2006. We come together five, six, seven times a year at firehouses throughout the county and have speakers on fire-related things like job opportunities and we hold training camps.”
The annual training camps, held at the Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage—a highly-regarded, 2.4 acre state-of-the-art facility used to train volunteers for all of Nassau County’s 71 fire departments—are in their second year of existence and have proven wildly successful with the juniors.
“I approached the academy about five years ago and they were very receptive. We set up a program and curriculum, which took about two years to put together,” he said. “This is the second year that we’ve held the camp here, in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America. We had two squads last year of 15 kids a piece for a total of 30 and it was so successful that this year we added an extra squad, for a total of 45 kids. The camp is five days long—a solid 40 hours—the kids need to commit to it.”
While at the camp, Presta said that the junior firefighters undergo rigorous training using hands-on, real, working gear and facing real smoke and fire designed to familiarize them with nearly every aspect of being a professional firefighter in the field.
Due to its continued success, the program may be expanded further in upcoming years, with more exercises and drills. Presta noted that they may be getting some foreign exchange student firefighters in the near future, as certain exercises at this year’s camp were streamed live via Internet to young firefighters in Germany. In addition, the academy has been fielding inquiries from fire departments across the U.S. as well, since there are very few other places in the country that actually offer programs like this.
Dylan McQuoad, 16, of Massapequa, has been a junior firefighter for the past three years. He said that he got involved as a way of proving both to the world and himself, that—despite a disability—he was as able to pursue his dreams as anyone else in the world.
“When I was in second-grade, my dad joined the fire department and that was one of my inspirations. Another thing that inspired me is that I have seizures and I wanted to join the juniors and train here at camp so I can show people that there’s really nothing that can hold you back from doing what you want to do,” he said. “That’s what my parents always told me growing up—that nothing can hold you back. Since joining the juniors, I’ve learned leadership, how to work with others and I’ve made a lot of friends here. When I was growing up, I really didn’t have any friends and now I’m really hoping to become a fire paramedic when I get older.”
Jack Kelly, 15, of Hicksville, has been an enthusiastic junior firefighter for the past 18 months and said that getting involved in that noble profession was a family tradition he wanted to keep alive.
“My dad was a city fireman and I decided that I wanted to follow in his footsteps and someday do what he does,” he said. “I’ve learned so much at the camp—like how to do searches in a smoky house, how to put ladders up, tie ropes, how to stretch a hose line, EMS stuff, you name it.”
Having been heavily involved with his local fire department for the past year, 15-year-old Wantagh native Ryan Kushner said that he feels a civic duty to help his fellow man and that there’s no better way of doing so than being a firefighter.
“The training here at the camp is great to prepare you for when you actually do join the fire department later in life,” he said. “My father was a police officer in New York City and he was a really big inspiration for me. The training here at the fire academy is not just physical, but there’s also a lot of great classroom training as well.”
Dylan Scire, 15, of Farmingdale, is a longtime member of the junior firefighters and said that participation in the group—as well as the intense training he’s been put through at the camp—have been one of the best experiences of his young life.
“I’ve always been interested in firefighting and in addition to all of the firefighting training, you really learn to work as a team under difficult conditions, how to communicate properly and follow the lead officer,” he said. “We get learn a lot of hose operations and activities like searching for victims in a home when you can’t see anything due to smoke and things like that.”
To find out more about the Nassau County Junior Firefighters Association, visit www.ncjfa.org.