Holley students learn about firefighting, leadership
Fire departments, school develop program to recruit volunteers, connect students to community
CLARENDON – It was about 2 ½ years ago when three fire departments in eastern Orleans County had an idea for recruiting potential volunteer firefighters and also providing some guidance to local youths.
Clarendon, Holley and Fancher-Hulberton-Murray fire company leaders pitched the idea of a firefighter youth group to the Holley school district and the Board of Education backed it.
Susan Cory, the middle/high school principal, promoted the new youth group over the announcements.
James Sharp was listening and wanted to give it a try. He doesn’t come from a firefighting family. But he enjoys the camaraderie and challenge with the fire service.
“If it wasn’t for this program I wouldn’t be a firefighter,” James said Thursday evening during an open house about the youth group.
James said the weekly meetings have provided good exercise. He likes feeling his adrenaline rush during the drills. And he has made many close friends.
“It’s pretty much a big family,” he said.
Representatives from the three fire departments, the Board of Education, and the Town of Clarendon attended the open house, as well as officials from the Orleans County Emergency Management Office.
The youth group meets most Monday evenings at the Clarendon fire hall. Thirteen students have been steady members of the youth group, and they have all learned First Aid and CPR. They have practiced hose advancement skills in between cones, done extrication and patient packaging, and learned about firefighting tools on the trucks.
Five – James Sharp, Dalton Major, Hunter McMillion, Delilah Grathouse and Cassie Mohney – have joined local fire companies. All 13 raised their hands this evening and said they intend to join when they are old enough, and some even want to become firefighters in their careers.
The program is the only one of its kind in the state, where a local school district sponsors the firefighting club. Participants need to keep their grades above passing or they could be suspended from the program.
“The whole objective is to catch the kids before they get other ambitions,” said Pete Hendrickson, Holley fire chief. His daughter McKenzie is in the youth group.
If a kid isn’t from a firefighting family, Hendrickson said it can be difficult to interest them in the fire service. That doesn’t bode well for the future of volunteer fire departments.
That’s why the three fire departments wanted to reach out to youths to help provide a pipeline for future firefighters.
Bob Freida, the Clarendon fire chief and an advisor to the youth group, said the program has gone exceptionally well. Five of the students have already committed to join the department, with more willing when they are old enough.
Freida said the program has given students a way to connect to the community.
“Many of these kids are not into sports and they’re not book worms,” Freida said. “They fall into the gap.”
Clarendon firefighters Marc Major and Jon DeYoung Jr. are also advisors for the program.
Major’s son Dalton, 15, has enjoyed the youth group so much he wants to become a professional firefighter when he’s older.
“This has been a really good learning experience,” Dalton said. “It’s a lot of fun and it definitely helps our community.”
Some of the drills have been difficult, but Dalton and the others say it gets easier with practice. Several of the students said the getting through the bail-out prop, which resembles a window up high, is a challenge, especially with 70 pounds of gear.
“If you’re not comfortable with it at first, we get more more comfortable with it,” Dalton said.
He gave an overview the program last March to The County Fire Coordinator’s Association of the State of New York, which was meeting at the state fire academy at Montour Falls. About 70 of the fire coordinators from counties throughout the state were there. Freida, Dalton’s father and Joe Morlino, chief of FHM, also attended that session.
Freida would like to see more schools partner with their local fire departments for similar programs.
“There’s a lot of interest in this (from other fire departments),” Freida said.
Cassie Mohney, 16, has long aspired to be a firefighter. She has completed the basic firefighter course, which took 96 hours. She also completed classes on engine company operations and water rescue, as well as others. She is a new member of the Holley Fire Department.
“There is a lot of training and practice,” she said.
She and Dalton Major are captains of the youth group, helping to get messages to the other students and organize them for drills and activities. Mohney has signed up for another training class: Fire Officer I.
“My family is in the department,” she said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do to help the community.”