MELFORT — The Melfort Fire Department has started a new initiative – a volunteer junior firefighter program.
The program allows youth between the ages of 16 and 18 to join the department.
The first part of becoming a junior firefighter in Melfort would be to take part in a 12 month training program. In the first three months, like regular new members, they undergo targeted training to allow them to build their knowledge skills and abilities. They would not respond to calls in this time.
From months four to 12 they can respond in a limited capacity. The difference with the junior firefighters is they will be permitted to respond outside of school hours, but not during. They also have to maintain their school grades, with the department staying in touch with parents or guardians to ensure this.
“If their grades start suffering, we will revisit their participation in calls, so we want to make sure education is the most important piece of their membership,” said Jason Everitt, Melfort’s fire chief.
While on call, the junior members act according to the discretion of the accompanying officers and will never be put into a role that puts them in harm’s way, such as entering a structure fire. This lasts until they turn 18.
Once the member turns 18 they will be considered for the role of a full-time status volunteer firefighter.
“The junior firefighter program was something we kind of stumbled on by accident,” Everitt said. “When we initiated our recruit competition this year for firefighters, two of our applicants were under the age of 18.”
Without the program, the fire department wouldn’t be able to consider them to join.
“What we decided to do, instead of discounting the applications, is look at bringing them onto the department in a junior capacity.”
Some other departments in the region, such as Nipawin, have already had this program in place so they can accept members under the age of 18. To build the program, Everitt said he connected with Brian Starkell, Nipawin’s fire chief.
“They have seen some great success with the program, so we decided to build our own version of that which would permit the two applicants under 18 to go through the process and if it worked out, they could be considered junior members of the fire department.”
Everitt said he hopes the program takes off with other youth in the community seeing it as a good opportunity to explore what the fire department has to offer.
“And it’s one way for them to serve the community as well.”
There are not currently a set number of junior firefighter spots available at the department. Everitt said the slots for the juniors are separate from the full-time volunteer firefighters.
“We’re hoping that we can introduce the fire service to youth in a safe environment and allow them to see what it is and hopefully they’ll choose to continue their service in that capacity.”