Like much of the country this past week, Long Island saw temperatures rise into the mid-90s with heat indices soaring over 100 degrees. For teens on Long Island, summer offers many opportunities to beat the heat. There are some of the best beaches in the country, numerous state parks with plenty of activities, there are still a few shopping malls to cool off in and hang out with friends, and, of course, it is just a short trip into New York City to see a show, take a boat ride around Manhattan or visit some world-famous museums.
So, given all of those choices, why would a group of 45 teens decide to don heavy firefighter gear and try to put out a car fire, enter a burning building and practice forcible-entry tactics in this stifling heat?“Because it’s really cool,” said one attendee, with no pun intended.
Filling a need
Back in 2015, the Nassau County Junior Firefighter Association (NCJFA) board members got together with the leaders of the Nassau County Fire Service Academy and started Camp Fahrenheit 516 (516 is the area code for the county).
Until then, many Juniors were traveling out of state to attend firefighting camps. The Camp Fahrenheit 516 organizing committee worked for months developing a curriculum that includes 70 percent hands-on training.
Jerry Presta, board chairman Nassau County Juniors, told Firehouse.com that attendees at the week-long camp get an unbelievable education.“Nothing beats hands-on training, and these young firefighters are out here getting the incredible experience,” he said.
The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for one week. The 45 campers are broken into three groups of 15. The groups receive training on three to four evolutions per day and they rotate so each group can train on each evolution.
On the day that Firehouse.com visited, the groups trained on car fires, flashover simulations and extinguishing a fire on the second floor of the training tower.
“We also train them on search and rescue operations, forcible entry, second-story bail out, extrication and so much more,” Presta said.And the campers love it!
Family ties…or not!“This has been a great learning experience,” said Michael DiOrio, a junior with the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department. “We got to use fire hydrants to put out real fires.”
“Getting to actually use the hose is a great learning experience,” added Joseph D’Alessandro of the Hicksville Fire Department. “Getting this first-hand experience before actually becoming a firefighter is amazing!”
D’Alessandro was inspired to join by several family members who are firefighters. DiOrio is following in his uncle’s footsteps.
But both agree that they may have joined even without the family ties.
“I just want to give back to the community and help people,” DiOrio said.
Presta added that while some attendees are following the family tradition, most are not.
“Many times, it is friends joining together, or kids seeing our posts on social media and becoming interested. It’s a wide array of campers,” he said.
Chief Timothy Maloney told Firehouse.com that they are getting calls from other states asking about the camp.
“I had a woman from Maine call to see if her son could attend the camp,” he said.
NCJFA President Kyra Kozey, who recently completed her EMT training, said participating in Camp Fahrenheit 516 gave her confidence she never knew she had.
“It was really challenging,” she said. “I was apprehensive at first, but I loved it…”
She added that teens are encouraged to try but not forced to participate in an activity at the camp.
Her friends were shocked when they learned Kozey had joined the Syosset Fire Department.
“When they saw me in my firefighting gear and jumping out of buildings, they thought it was pretty cool,” she said adding that she’s recruited several to give it a shot.