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Ranging in ages from 11 to 18, the junior firefighters worked to get on their gear as quickly as possible during their monthly training session last week, each hoping that one day they will become certified firefighters.
Owen County Fire Chief Robb Chaney said Owen County has had a junior firefighter program for years, but the state has just recently set up rules and regulations for the young men, who he said are the future of Owen County’s many volunteer fire departments.
“They train with us and go out to fires with us,” Chaney said. “They’re kind of like our ‘gofers’ right now. They get equipment, roll hoses, load equipment and they attend meetings to know what’s going on.”
Owenton Fire Chief David Lilly said the young men each go to a fire decked out in the proper personal protective gear, including hoods, gloves, bunker pants and boots.
The Owen County Volunteer Fire Department and the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department are the only two departments in the county who currently have junior firefighters.
Lilly said as years pass, volunteers become harder and harder to find.
“We have a limited amount of money to work with,” Lilly said. “Volunteers are what keep this country going. And if you can find young men and women who can get a grasp on how important volunteer work is and get them started, they’ll continue to see the importance of it throughout the rest of their lives.”
Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chase Duvall said the program gives the young men a head-start on training.
To join the ranks, 150 hours of training are needed. And afterward, an additional 20 hours are needed each year to stay certified.
Several of the junior firefighters are working their way toward becoming second- and third-generation firefighters, volunteer firefighter Greg Estes said.
“When you’re not home a lot, they want to know where you’re at,” said Chaney, whose son is a junior firefighter. “They’re either going to become really interested in it and want to join, or they’re going to become really disinterested.”
The current junior firefighters are Cameron Duvall, Christopher Curtis, Daniel Lilly, Erik Lilly, Adam Estes, Kevin Ingram, Joshua Sizemore, Chris Sutton, and Jacob Miller.
All of the young men agreed that they had never been scared when going out on a run, but instead get a rush from the adrenaline.
“About the only thing I don’t like about it is being in school when there’s a run and I can’t go,” Adam Estes said.
Cameron Duvall said he enjoys getting on all of the gear and being on the truck, while Ingram said he likes “being on the hose.”
Despite their young age, each is confident that being a volunteer firefighter is something they will continue to do throughout the rest of their lives.
“We’re all a big family,” Daniel Lilly said. “Being a volunteer firefighter is just a good choice — it’s a brotherhood.”
Daniel’s twin brother, Erik, agreed.
“It’s just fun to get out and experience new things,” Erik Lilly said. “Anyone who has an interest in this sort of thing should join. It’s fun and they would be helping people out.”
The departments are always seeking additional volunteers, Chaney said, women included.
“We always need volunteers,” Chaney said. “And women are more than welcome to join. We need everybody we can get.”
For those interested in becoming a junior firefighter, Chaney said the fire department will have a booth set up at Sweet Owen Day Sept. 17.