LIGHTING A SPARK: Academy introduces youngsters to possibilities of firefighting as a career


GREENFIELD — The protective fire gear was much heavier than Declan McPherson thought it was going to be.

“I had no idea I was going to have to put all this gear on,” McPherson said tugging at the heavy metal clasp keeping the pants from falling. “These pants weight a lot.”

The 14-year-old eighth-grader was standing in the middle of a Greenfield fire station garage with a dozen other teenagers, dressed in full gear and learning the proper way to prepare to fight a fire.

“It’s a different ball game when they put on the fire gear, mask and everything,” said Steve Kropacek, fire marshal for the Greenfield Fire Territory. “They’re putting on about 100 pounds with everything we carry, and that’s one of the things they had never thought about.”

The training session was just one of the many things the Greenfield-Central Junior High School students learned during the department’s second annual Teen Fire Academy.

The daylong program took place last week and was designed to give younger teenagers a chance to see if they’d be interested in a career as a firefighter. Those who did well and enjoyed the experience were recommended to take the next step and sign up for the department’s Cadet Academy, which accepts high school students to learn more about firefighting skills.

Kropacek and Lt. Jeff Goebel were overseeing the lessons, which started with a look back at the fire department’s history.

The students also went through gear-fitting drills and teenagers learned how to properly use fire extinguishers. They learned how to handle hoses and ladders and conduct searches. They also learned about aerial operations, rescue operations and the duties of paramedics.

“The kids love because it opens their eyes a little bit to what we really do and what they could do one day,” Kropacek said.

Officials from the fire territory recruited the teenagers, having lunch with them during school at Greenfield Central Junior High and explaining what they do in an effort to drum up interest in first-responder training.

Even though he’s only heading into the eighth grade, Declan seemed pretty confident he’ll end up being a firefighter one day, noting his father, uncle and grandfathers are firefighters.

“My family really likes it, and I think it’s kind of fun,” he said. “That’s my goal to be a firefighter.”

Declan was particularly looking forward to seeing what it was like to climb a firefighting ladder.

“I want to see what it feels like to be up that high,” he said.

Goebel over sees the department’s Cadet Academy and had a few of his older high school cadets working with the seventh- and eighth-graders.

“This is all about giving the kids a chance to get their feet wet kind of learning,” Goebel said.

Goebel noted it’s one thing to dream about being a first-responder as a smaller kid. Getting a chance to wear the gear and understand firefighters work is different.

“They get to put their hands on the equipment and see how heavy an axe is,” Goebel said. “They’re getting their eyes opened.”

Logan Williams, 18, is a recent Greenfield-Central High School graduate who just landed a volunteer position in Green Township. He was one of the teenagers who went through the Cadet Academy and helped teach the younger teens during the training session. Williams remembered what it was like to cross the line from dreaming about being a firefighter to getting a real chance to be one. He said it’s days like this that can focus young people’s vision on their career choices.

“This just kind of gives you a taste of what it would be like to be a firefighter, the basics,” Williams said.

Becoming a firefighter and helping people is something Williams has wanted to do his whole life, he said. Introductory programs like this one are very important.

He’s taken numerous classes and hopes to one day join the Greenfield Fire Territory as a full-time firefighter and said it all started thanks to things like the Teen and Cadet Academies.

“This is a great intro into the Cadet program so when you get in there, you know what to expect,” Williams said. “I love teaching people about it because it’s a great field to get into.”

Both Goebel, with 17 years as a firefighter; and Kropacek, with 21½ years of experience, agree. They hope the things the professionals shared with the teens during the training session might open the door to some of them making the same decisions they did to become a first-responder.

The fire department isn’t the only public safety agency that puts on a similar program for young people. Teenagers interested in going into law enforcement had the same kind of opportunity this week.

On Monday, June 14, some 35 teenagers began taking part in the weeklong Hancock County Law Enforcement Teen Academy at Greenfield-Central High School.

The teens have spent the week learning about police officers’ jobs from members of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and the Greenfield Police Department