MOHAWK - Volunteer firefighters are pinning their hopes for the future of the department on the success of the Junior Fire Department training program. A growing number of Mohawk students have shown an interest in the program over the past year.
The program, developed a year ago, allows students ages 14-21 to become eligible for the same type of supervised fire training provided to volunteer firefighters in the state of New York. The idea for the program was approved by the fire department, village officials and Alexander Hose Co. members. It is sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, which carries a $15 million liability insurance policy on the young trainees.
The department began the program with four Mohawk Central School juniors participating. Since that time, six new members - four seniors and two sophomores - have been brought into the fold.
"The program is outstanding and has totally amazed me at how far the students have gone in their studies and training in such a short period of time," said Mohawk Parade Capt. Tim Moore, who organized the program and now serves as advisor to the group.
With the group's 76-hour firefighter training course completed, Moore said it puts fire department officials in a position to move the students up to official capacity of probationary firefighters.
"The move allows the group's members to take state firefighter courses and exams to prepare them as volunteer firefighters and it also gives them credits on their high school report cards for community service," Moore said. "The credits will help them obtain grants that could pay for most of their college education, if they decide to remain in the fire service. That's a big incentive in itself."
If all paperwork is turned into the school by April, Moore said three of the seniors can apply to any college that accepts the program and their tuition would be fully funded. The program will allow them to be part of any volunteer fire department located near the college.
"All of this is positive for the students, their parents and the community they live in," Moore said. "Right now, firefighters in most departments like ours are 45-50 years old, making it important to bring these young potential firefighters into the community to relieve older firefighters of some of their duties."
Moore said the program is perfect for high school students to grow into and, if interest continues, it will allow Mohawk to maintain its volunteer fire department.
"The first group of students to participate have been very motivated and, if help is needed, they're there to take part at car washes, the annual Heart Run & Walk or fun things like helping out at the department's annual Firemen's Field Days," Moore said. "Department members can't say enough about the students who have continued to grow and learn from the time they first started the program to the level they've reached now."
Once the students become volunteer firefighters, their training will increase to 120 hours per year to comply with state mandated training for volunteers.
"With the continued positive outlet of the program and parents standing behind their children's desire to continue the program in the future, we could have a volunteer fire department that remains well trained in every aspect of firefighting," Moore said.
Firefighter and Hose Co. member Ed View said the program is something Mohawk should continue to build on as it looks to the future of the department.
"We need to replenish our ranks because our members aren't as young as they once were, yet still have to put in long hours of training," View said. "As statistics show, 80 percent of the fire service consists of volunteers, only 20 percent are paid firefighters."
Another way to make volunteer fire service attractive, View said, is to look into rewarding firefighters with some type of incentive for the job they do, especially to keep them in the area and to keep older firefighters and related organizations, like the Ladies Auxiliary, involved in various facets of the department's operation.
"It's important to keep the fire service strong," View said. "According to a recent Internet survey, people rated firemen most highly respected, putting them above police and clergy, and we have the very best of them in our community."