A historic event occurred in January on Long Island.
There were no satellite trucks set up and it didn’t make the evening news. But, it was something that will be etched in history in the area.
An all-female board was elected to head the Nassau County Junior Firefighters’ Association.
It took a few minutes after the election in January for everyone to realize they were involved in history.
“As I was reading the names of those elected, I thought ‘wow, they’re all girls,’” said Jerry Presta, senior advisor and board chairman of the organization.
In 2006, the county fire association established a group specific to junior firefighters. While six or seven departments had youth programs, all were operating alone.
“The thought was we should get all these junior firefighters together so they can train together and share experiences,” Presta explained adding that the fledging group is now 900 strong from 48 companies.
“We started out small but it took off like a rocket,” he said with a laugh, adding that it's the only one in the country.
At those early meetings, the teens typically sat with their own groups and didn’t mingle much. But, that was short-lived as friends were made and bonds were formed.
In addition to training at the individual departments, the teens get together throughout the year to hold exercises.
In July, they spend an entire week at the county training academy doing everything from searches, interior firefighting and practicing bail out scenarios. Their skills also are put to the test in the flash over simulator.
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 that was named by the junior firefighters. 516 is their area code.
Her friends were shocked when they learned she 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. “They now understand that it is cool. I think it’s wonderful. I think other communities should have programs because it’s good for youths. It teaches you a lot."
It’s been an eye-opening experience for all.
Samara Mehta, the secretary, said when she signed up with Jericho Fire Department, her dad was all for it.
“But my mom was totally against it especially when she heard about the fire academy. Anything with fire or danger, she said 'absolutely not.' "
But she came around after seeing the gear and learning that safety was paramount at the training academy.
There's a 10-page application that the youths and their parents or guardians are required to complete. Rules and regulations of the program are included.
The teens are involved in all activities at their departments such as fund raisers, open houses and details.
Throwing ladders, donning gear and learning how to bandage a bleeding patient aren’t the only things they’re learning.
Second Vice President Khadeejah Memon said being a member has enhanced her life skills such as leadership, self-confidence and responsibility.
Older girls in the program encouraged her and showed her the ropes which she said she’ll always be grateful. Now, she's mentoring others.
She and the other junior firefighters are doing a balancing act as they also are involved in a number of school activities as well.
Public speaking is not something any of them wanted to do. All agreed they'd rather run into a burning building than speaking in front of a crowd.
But they set aside their fears when it came to addressing their fellow junior firefighters on election day. Each had to explain why they should be given the opportunity.
“I think there were 200 in the room. I was so nervous,” Kyra said.
The others whole-heartedly agreed. Some had practiced with family and friends.
And, their colleagues listened.
When the results were read, Kyra said they looked around the room at each other and smiled. “It was just a great moment of realization.”
Samara said she hopes the all-female board will serve as the catalyst for other young women who may now be encouraged to reach out to follow a career as a firefighter or EMT.