NVFC Recognizes 2021 Junior Firefighter Program of the Year

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) bestowed the 2021 Junior Firefighter Program of the Year Award to the Colonia (NJ) Fire Department Explorer Post during a ceremony on November 19. NVFC director from New Jersey George Heflich and past director Eugene Enfield Sr. presented the award.

Sponsored by California Casualty, the Junior Firefighter Program of the Year Award is presented each year to an outstanding junior firefighter program that exemplifies community impact, innovation, and creativity. The ceremony took place locally so that all of the program’s junior firefighters had the opportunity to attend. In addition to the award, the juniors were presented with a National Junior Firefighter Program baseball cap.

“We are very pleased to partner with California Casualty to recognize this outstanding group of junior firefighters,” said NVFC chair Steve Hirsch. “The dedication displayed by these juniors to their department and community is inspirational and shows that the future of the fire service is very bright indeed.”

The Colonia Explorer Post is a vibrant, long-running program that has provided numerous benefits to the fire department and the community. The program is also the primary source of new members for the department, with many of the current members being former Explorers.

The Explorers learn firefighting methods, equipment, and apparatus through training and drills. By participating in community service activities, these young people have become ambassadors of their community and the department as they prepare for college and life after high school.

For the past 11 years, the Colonia Explorers have participated in the Ohio Youth Fire & EMS Training Academy (OYFETA), a weeklong event that takes place at Hocking College in Nelsonville, OH. Taking a group of teenagers raised in New Jersey to a rural college campus several hundred miles away and embedding them with a similar group of teenagers from Ohio and other states has helped them develop communication skills and behaviors expected of older young adults. Department leaders, academy staff, and parents have consistently said that attendees have returned as responsible teenagers with improved outlooks on life and education, enhanced social and behavioral skills, and a recognition that effort results in success and reward. They quickly learn to behave like a firefighter – work collectively as a team, support those that fall behind, and learn from those who know more.

In addition, the Colonia Fire Department’s Junior Fire Academy program is a recruitment/community activity that highlights the OYFETA attendees. Designed to spur interest in the Explorer program, 7th and 8th grade students are invited to experience the physical skills and activities of a firefighter over two days. OYFETA graduates are paired with firefighters to serve as instructors.

The success of the Colonia Explorer program has led to other fire departments seeking out their assistance in creating or improving their own junior/Explorer programs. However, the greatest measure of the program’s success can be seen in the substantial number of former Explorers who are now in full-time fire and emergency services positions in communities in New Jersey and across the country.

The Junior Firefighter Program of the Year is one of five annual fire service achievement awards given out by the NVFC. The nomination period for the 2022 awards is currently open. Learn more and submit a nomination at www.nvfc.org/awards.

About the National Volunteer Fire Council
The NVFC is the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services. The NVFC serves as the voice of the volunteer in the national arena and provides critical resources, programs, education, and advocacy for first responders across the nation. Learn more at www.nvfc.org

About California Casualty
Founded in 1914, California Casualty provides auto and home insurance to firefighters, peace officers, educators, and nurses in 44 states. The company routinely maintains a 99 percent customer service rating and a 96 percent claims rating. Learn more about their exclusive coverage and discounts at www.calcas.com.