Michael Boland Jr. and Michael Daniels, junior firefighters for the North Bellmore Fire Department, recently kicked their training into high gear when they confronted a burning building for the first time.
The young firefighters attended Camp Fahrenheit 516, a boot camp organized by the Nassau County Junior Firefighters Association at the county’s Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage July 25-29. The camp trained 45 junior firefighters and Explorers — 15 more than last year, when the course began.
Participants from 23 departments across Nassau County spent seven-hour days learning “mask confidence,” search-and-rescue techniques, forcible entry and emergency evacuation procedures and fire extinguisher drills, and fought live car and warehouse fires. They were also trained in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators.
Although they had not yet encountered most of the scenarios, Boland and Daniels said that they were confident in their ability to handle them.
“I knew what I was going to be up against and I expected what was going to happen,” said the 16-year-old Boland, adding that the boys he trained with were just as prepared to put out a real fire.
Daniels, also 16, said that in the live-fire drill, during which the participants separated into two groups and took turns hosing down the fire, “I knew I was with the best trainers in New York, who would help me if I needed it.”
Boland, an incoming senior at Mepham High School, said he planned to stay involved with the Fire Department when he goes to college. Daniels, a Mepham junior, agreed, and said he hoped to study meteorology and emergency management in college so he could help his community prepare for natural disasters in tandem with its Fire Department.
The minimum age for firefighters in New York state is 18, and junior firefighting programs are meant to train future recruits. “They pretty much do everything that an official member does,” said Mark DiRenzo, chief of the North Bellmore department, said of the trainees, who meet twice a month. The department is always looking for new recruits, he added.
Since the North Bellmore department began the program last year, two participants have turned 18 and decided to stay with the department.
Boland and Daniels both said that Camp Fahrenheit 516 was a learning experience that would benefit them when they eventually become official firefighters. “I just want to come into the department when I turn 18 with more knowledge than the average guy,” Boland said.
The boot camp aims to prepare a younger generation of firefighters at a time when departments are struggling to retain their members. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, New York had as many as 120,000 volunteer firefighters, according to Robert Leonard, public relations chairman of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. The number dipped in the mid-’90s, only to rebound for a time after Sept. 11, 2001. In 2010, the state had around 83,000 volunteers, but the number has increased to close to 110,000 over the past four years, Leonard said.
For more information on Camp Fahrenheit 516, visit www.ncjfa.org.