Members of the Ticonderoga Fire Department youth program participate in drills each week with firefighters. Pictured are, front from left, Dillon Crowe, William Gonyo, Samantha Sommerville; back, Chris Stonitsch, adviser, Michael watts, Zech Yaw and Cody Shaner.
A group of Ticonderoga teens are training to become firefighters.
The Ticonderoga Fire Department has initiated a youth program designed to create interest among 14 and 15 year olds.
“They’re our future,” Matt Watts, Ti first assistant chief, said. “Because of their age there are restrictions, but they can learn the general operation of the department, the tools, the reasons we do things. As they get older they can become more and more involved.”
The local department has had a junior firefighter program since 1984. That program has proven successful, providing a pathway to adult membership. In fact, three of the department’s top line officers are former junior firefighters.
“That’s been a great program for a long time,” Watts, once a junior fireman himself, said. “A lot of firemen started out in the junior program.”
The junior program was open to teens ages 14-17. Two years ago a change in state law limited the program to ages 16 and 17. In response, the Ti department started a youth program for those ages 14 and 15.
“We started with a couple of kids and it’s grown,” Watts said. “There seems to be real interest in the program.”
The Ti FD youth program now has 10 members — Samantha Sommerville, Michael Watts, Cody Shaner, Zech Yaw, William Gonyo, Dillon Crowe, Paige Gunning, Cassandra Adams, Dalton Huestis and Matt Cook. They work with three advisers — Chris Stonitsch, Joelle Stonitsch and Phil Huestis.
Members of the youth corps must be residents of the fire district, have parental permission and must be approved by their school guidance counselor.
“School is important and always comes first,” Jeff Burns, Ti fire chief said. “We monitor their grades. If they have trouble in school they have to get the necessary help.”
Youth firefighters by limited in what they can do. They can’t use power equipment such as the jaws of life and can’t participate in live fire training. But they can help at the scene of a fire or other emergency.
“They can change our air packs, get us equipment, give us water,” Watts said. “They can be a big help.”
“They help us out a lot,” Burns said of the teens. “And we enjoy having them around. They have an enthusiasm that’s contagious. I believe they lift the morale of the entire department.”
Chris Stonitsch agrees.
“They have a lot enthusiasm,” he said. “They’re all excited to be part of the department. I think that rubs off on the rest of us.”
The youth corps can also raise money. Members conducted their own fundraiser and purchased their own helmets.
The group recently went to a training session sponsored by the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York in Watertown. Members spent the morning participating in drills and the afternoon in a classroom setting.
The youth firefighters say they’re learning a lot and enjoying the experience.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Sommerville said of firefighting. “It’s a lot of work.”
“I’ve learned what it means to be a volunteer, what it means to help your community,” Gonyo said. “It’s a lot more than breaking down a burning wall.”
All the youth members have completed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator training.
“It’s a good feeling to know that you might be able to help someone,” the younger Watts said.
Crowe recently carried an adult firefighter, twice his weight, down a ladder during a training exercise. He said he enjoys the banter between firefighters.
“I like being here,” he said.
Besides learning firefighting skills, Burns hopes the youth members are gaining other benefits.
“I hope we teach more than firefighting,” he said. “We provide a safe environment for these kids and, hopefully, set a good example for them. If they have any problems they can go to one of the advisers.”
The youth corps drills along side Ti firefighters each Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the fire house. Interested teens can attend a training session of call a member of the department.