SHERIDAN — If that firefighter hosing down your grass fire looks a little young to be wearing turnout gear, don’t be alarmed; chances are he or she is in training, part of the Firefighter Cadet program instituted last year by the Sheridan Community Fire Department. At present, only three teens are enrolled in the program, but Fire Chief Ed Lingeman would like to see that number double in the near future.
“This is a way to get kids who are interested in firefighting involved,” Lingeman said. “It gives them a chance to feel it out a little bit.”
The program, he added, also provides a certain degree of mentorship and allows young people a chance to take part in an important volunteer effort for the community.
Lingeman established the program — which he says has so far been a “learn as you go” effort — in the spring of 2013.
The cadet position is more than just an honorary title or “gopher” job, Lingeman stresses. These kids actually suit up and take part in fighting fires and handling other emergency situations to which the department is called.
There are a few restrictions; the cadets can’t leave school to go on calls, nor can they take part in late-night emergencies. Likewise, they don’t join mutual aid operations or respond to car accidents.
“We do take them out to miscellaneous fires, grass fires and some structure fires,” Lingeman said. “Based on the info we’re given, we determine if they’re going along to help out. Basically, we depend on any type of assistance they can give that would usually take a firefighter.”
Not surprisingly, some of the cadets in the program plan to take the state certification training when they turn 18, the earliest age at which one may apply.
Jesse James, a 15-year-old Central Montcalm High School student, has been in the program since May 18. Already he looks completely at home standing before a fire engine in full turnout gear. Despite having the time of his life while on calls, he takes the training seriously.
“This is really fun to do,” James said. “It’s something I always wanted to do as a kid, either be a firefighter or a police officer. I like to help out the community and I’m glad to be able to get this experience.”
One of the other cadets, Kristen Bush, 15 and a student at Belding High School, is carrying on a long family tradition. Her great-grandfather was the village’s first fire chief. Her grandfather served on the fire department his entire adult life and her aunt was the first ever woman to serve on the department. Finally, her father, Daryl Bush, currently serves with the department.
Bush has some rather large boots to fill, but she seems up to the task.
“I just thought it would be cool to have the experience,” Bush said. “This is something I’ve been thinking about going into for a long time. I’m pretty sure I’ll take the (state certification) training when I turn 18.”
The lessons the cadets are learning, Lingeman said, go beyond simply understanding the way the firefighting equipment works or even what hazards lay in wait in various emergency scenarios. They’re also learning the importance of being a part of a larger community, of relying on your fellow firefighters and having them rely on you.
The cadets are not just learning to be good firefighters, they’re learning to be good people. For Lingeman, that’s what the program is all about.