High School Students Build Experience Through Fire Dept Cadet Program

Battalion Chief Chris Harrod, Cadet Firefighters Sam Crouse, Taylor Risk, Caty Harrod, Cadet Captain Austin Taylor, TJ Brown, Lucas Brown, Cadet Lt Emma GreshamBattalion Chief Chris HarrodOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto ProvidedPhoto ProvidedPhoto Provided

Building strength, character, and most importantly helping save lives is the experience thirteen high school students are having as part of the new program at the Anderson County Fire Department.  Called the cadet program, it gives students from 14 to 18 years old a way to experience what a firefighter would do and also gain real firefighting experience they can use towards their firefighter’s certification.

According to Chris Harrod, battalion chief at the department, the cadet program started last August with the start of the school year.  It originally was just a group of students whose parents volunteer at the department, but it grew through word of mouth with now half of the cadets that don’t have other family members in the department.

Through the past year, the cadets have made emergency runs alongside the adult firefighters across the county.  They get to help them with moving equipment, preparation and more.  Although they aren’t allowed to be in dangerous areas like inside a burning home, according to state rules, the cadets play a vital role in relieving worn firefighters in putting equipment away after a fire or other emergency. “They’ve been a great support,” Chris said.

They have also been around to different parts of the country, learning and competing.  In February, they traveled to Gatlinburg, TN, to be apart of Winterfest, which is similar to a Boy Scout explorer program with different focused competitions, including some related to firefighting.  Then in April, they went to Indianapolis to be apart of the Fire Department Instructors Conference where over 25,000 firefighters attend.

They also have volunteered locally.  They have participated in the Crusade for Children, helped the Open Hands Food Pantry, and have done other community service projects.

However, during this week, a number of the cadets have joined with Chris Harrod and other adult firefighters in an intensive cadet camp to give them the feel of what it would be like to serve as a paid firefighter, living in a fire house.  Seven of the thirteen cadets get up early in the morning and work late into the evening, doing truck checks, station duties, mock emergency runs, and even cooking their own food and cleaning the bathrooms.

Even though the county fire department is volunteer, the camp has given them the experience as if it was a paid department. “The whole idea was to give these guys an opportunity to see what it is like to be on a paid fire department,” Chris said.

During the week, the cadets have also had numerous exercises.  They have trained on aerial ladders, work on rapid dressing where they quickly put on firefighting gear, and have done many team building exercises where they have to learn to work as a team.

A big opportunity for those in the cadet program is that the time they spend in it goes towards actual training hours they would need if they wanted to become certified firefighters.  Normally, it would take considerable time after a person turns 18 years old to get the required hours.  But now, according to Chris, the cadets will have all the hours they need by then.

And the cadets are thoroughly enjoying the program. “I like it, because if you have somebody in the program like me that actually wants to pursue a [firefighting] career in Lexington, this a good opportunity to get all the training hours in,” Cadet Lucas Brown said.

As Chris looks to the future for the cadet program, he would like to see more join and get the group to around 20.  The department does a recruit/cadet night on Thursday for those would like to learn more and try it out.  They are also working on creating a scholarship program to help a cadet go to college for fire administration.

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