Training the Next Generation: WV Junior Firefighter Camp

By Tom Miller
Imagine, if you will, having the opportunity to work for a week with 135 kids, ages 14 to 18, who truly want to learn more about the fire and rescue service. Imagine, as a fire department, having access to a resource where you can immerse your junior firefighters for a week in a program that will allow them to experience all that the fire service has to offer – from wearing full PPE including an SCBA to learning first aid and CPR; from climbing ladder trucks and learning ropes, knots, and haul systems, to water rescue; from firefighting, ventilating, and doing search and rescue, to actually participating in live burns – one week of living the life of the fire service and all its traditions. Further, imagine a cadre of over 15 fire service instructors and counselors volunteering their time to teach and support such a program. 
Well, it’s not imaginary – it is the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension (WVU FSE) Junior Firefighter Camp!
The WVU FSE Junior Firefighter Camp started in 2006 as an idea to build the future of the West Virginia Fire Service by giving fire departments and youth programs the opportunity to send kids for a week to a program that would allow them hands-on experience in all that the fire service is and does. Support from the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association was quickly obtained along with several corporate sponsorships. The 2006 Junior Firefighter Camp was attended by approximately 35 campers. 
Nine years later, the camp has grown significantly and now helps train and educate youth from across the nation. The 2015 Camp, which took place June 27-July 2, was attended by 135 campers from 12 states and Puerto Rico. The Camp is held at the West Virginia State Fire Training Academy at Jackson’s Mill.
The Camp provides a wide range of activities and lessons designed both for those attending for the first time, and for those returning to the camp. First time campers get a broader sampling of the various aspects of the fire service while returning campers get to participate in more advanced events like the Haz Mat Challenge and more complex search and rescue classes. In all activities, the Camp stresses the core foundations of the fire service including, but not limited to: being responsible citizens, teamwork and accountability, respect for authority, the history of the fire service, and the role of the modern fire service in the community. 
Campers are assigned to Companies and Battalions and move through the week’s events as a unit – keeping Company integrity and learning their role in ensuring everyone’s safety. Companies get to elect their own Company Officer and create a poster that represents their Company and its values. On graduation day, the campers vote on a Chief Officer for the Camp. The instructors and counselors also choose a camper who has stood out as a leader and role model as “Camper of the Year.” With so many great kids to choose from, the decisions are often difficult. All campers get certified in First Aid and CPR and receive certificates for community service from the Governor of the State of West Virginia. 
On the last night of Camp the kids get to participate in “night burns.” This closely supervised activity allows the campers to work together in teams to fight a “pit fire.” The event is open to the campers’ families, who observe the drill from bleachers positioned to allow a full view of the activity.
The Camp is supported by WVU’s Extension Services, and WVU Extension Dean, Steve Bonanno, is very active in the set-up and design of the program. WVU FSE Program Director Mark Lambert stated, “This is a great program – these kids are the future of the fire service and we owe it to them to allow them to experience all of this.”  
Deputy Chief Brian Grieco of the Huntington (WV) Fire Department serves as the Operations Chief for the Camp and sets the schedule. Countless hours and time are put into preparation for the Camp, ensuring that activities go off without a hitch and providing support to the campers. Instructors and counselors handle all of the issues that one could expect with such event – from arranging for travel to and from airports, to helping fit campers with PPE, to arranging for phone calls for homesick campers. Everything is planned for and no need goes unmet. 
Fire departments send their apparatus to the Camp for the students to use during activities. The West Virginia State Firemen’s Association and corporate sponsors provide scholarships to allow those who otherwise can’t afford to attend the opportunity to be a part of this experience. It is truly a huge collaborative effort that generates real success. This year, 47 of the 135 youth were returning campers, and many are Junior members of their local fire departments. 
The camp has a significant impact on all involved, and the youth come away with a deeper knowledge and respect for what it means to be a firefighter. Lanny Adkins, WVU FSE Program Coordinator, noted,  “The kids come in crying because they miss home and leave crying because they don’t want to leave their new friends and the instructors. It is an amazing transformation over the week of Camp.” 
Now that the 2015 WVU FSE Junior Firefighter Camp is over, planning is already underway for the 10th Annual Camp in 2016. If you would like more information about the Camp, visit the WVU FSE web site at
If you or your organization would like to be a sponsor of the Camp, please contact Mark Lambert, Program Director, at You may also call the State Fire Academy at 304-269-0875. 
Tom Miller is the West Virginia Director on the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). He has been a member of the Sissonville (WV) Volunteer Fire Department since 1985, serves on the department’s board of directors, and is on the Legislative Committee for the West Virginia State Firemen's Association. He also represents the NVFC on the NFPA 472/473/475/1072 Technical Committee and the NFPA Joint 1001/472 Task Group. 

Camp attendees line up during a low
angle rope rescue drill.

Low angle rope rescue drill

Water rescue drill

Bus crash scenario drill