Petersburg Pilot -

PVFD youth program full and underway


The Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department’s youth program is picking up momentum and students are beginning to learn more about fire behavior and safety. Program leader Devren Bennett says this year has been great because it’s a full class with 12 students participating.

Bennett says among the top benefits is introducing youth to the PVFD program. This is important to the local community because the department is having a difficult time bringing in recruits. It’s a problem departments nationwide are having, he says.

“All volunteer organizations are having trouble finding people,” Bennett says. “This program not only introduces the students to volunteerism, but to the fire service.”

Getting kids interested in fire service early could transform the way they approach volunteering as an adult or how they see emergency service as a potential career. Bennett says the program has produced a handful of professionals and volunteers in the fire firefighters and EMS fields.

“We really push professionalism and teamwork, everything in fire service is team based,” he says. “It also gives them the opportunity to learn leadership skills.”

Every year, Bennett designates a squad leader or two, depending on how many students are participating. It adds to the professional attitude the program strives to achieve, not only for leaders, but those working under them and with them.

“Attitude is a big thing,” he says. “Being positive, helping other students out and being there for each other whether it’s in training or just hanging around the Fire Hall.”

Youth program students learn the basics of working with hoses and ladders, in addition to fire science. They learn accountability by taking care of their department issued gear and working with PVFD equipment in addition to learning how to read and react to various situations they might face.

“It is absolutely rewarding, it’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s really quite rewarding,” Bennett says.

The class meets every Monday night, and local volunteer firefighters come in to help Bennett teach various aspects of the course from learning how the command center works, to ventilation and even rural operations for performing the job outside of 5 mile.

PVFD spokesperson Dave Berg says the number of students in this year’s program could be the largest yet. Berg says the youth program started five or six years ago and it’s proved quite successful.

A couple of weeks ago the kids experienced a controlled live burn, with Bennett crafting a small box to place on fire, then put it out. Last week, the class covered basics on hose, including hose couplings, proper rolling techniques, and loading pre-connects or quick-deploy lines. Next week, the class will be working on tagging hydrants, deploying the pre-connects, and start learning proper hose handling skills.

The classes run into January, but youth participation doesn’t end when classes stop. Youth participants are encouraged to attend PVFD weekly drills and remain part of the team with the adult volunteers.

“Some are really interested in fire behavior and fire science, and they come and are real helpful,” Berg says. “We all want to help. It’s part of being a firefighter.”

For veteran volunteers, it’s an opportunity to engage with a young, interested mind and relay their years of experience, hopefully helping to encourage the next generation of volunteers.

Berg says keeping the maximum number of students to 12 works with the amount of supervision the program currently offers. Things could change in the future, but the current limit helps control the learning environment, ensures accuracy of work being completed, and increases productivity and safety for all involved, he says.

“If you have too many people it just doesn’t work,” Berg says.


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