LIMERICK — After walking away from a controlled fire he just put out with a fire extinguisher, Brody, looking at his hands through wire-rimmed glasses, explained how he did it.
“Pull the pin, aim the hose,” the young boy explained slowly and carefully. “Then you squeeze.”
The aspiring firefighter just learned the skill from real firefighters, who’d taught him and more than a dozen other boys and girls like him. Behind him, as he explained the process, a firefighter was helping another little boy put out another controlled fire.
Limerick Fire Company’s first-ever fire camp appears to be a success.
Forty boys and girls ranging from 6 to 13-years-old turned out this week to learn fire safety and the tricks of the trade of firefighting from the men and women who do it day in and day out.
“They’re learning all the pieces of what goes on in our world,” said Limerick Fire Chief Ken Shuler said. “Some of them are saying, ‘How old do you have to be to join?’”
Shuler said his company was “thrilled” with the turn-out and enthusiasm shown by the kids who are attending the camp.
Other fire camps’ first years have had a much smaller turnout, Shuler heard.
“We were hoping to get a dozen to 15,” campers, Shuler said. “We have 40 for our first.”
One of the main reasons the fire company hosted the camp is for potential recruitment purposes down the road. Although they’re at a robust 50-active volunteer firefighter force right now, problems could sneak up if new membership isn’t pursued actively.
“Getting them at this age is important because their curiosity is up, they see shows on TV, they see all the books, they want to know more about it,” Shuler said. “Now they’re actually doing it. They’re charging the lines, they’re actually setting up ladders. They’re doing it all.”
The camp ran Monday through Friday in the morning, starting by teaching all of the kids what the different equipment and apparatus is, then moving on to procedures and skills firefighters need to rescue others and survive themselves.
Broken into three groups with Limerick Fire Company t-shirts that either read “Engine,” “Rescue,” or “Ladder” on the back, the kids ran through different stations to learn skills Wednesday.
One involved learning how to deploy, charge and, eventually, roll a hose.
Another involved the mechanics of using a fire extinguisher.
That was “Cadet” Ryan’s favorite stop of the day.
“I liked putting out the fire with the fire extinguisher,” he said.
Another cadet in Ryan’s “Engine” group, Zach, felt the same way, saying that was his favorite part of the camp.
Both want to enter the fire service when they’re old enough.
“It’s all hands on,” Shuler said.
The last station Wednesday was inside a demonstration trailer which can simulate, among other things, a kitchen fire.
Deputy Chief Glen Russell showed the campers there what to do in the event of a stove fire, microwave fire, or trash fire and if any of them spread.
“You try to get these kids to identify things themselves,” Russell explained.
Shuler said a large part of the camp is to teach fire safety. Each day, they start with what he said is the firefighters’ motto: “Everyone comes home.”
In the midst of a demonstration on a kitchen fire, which uses lights and fake smoke to simulate the experience, Russell ran through what to do with the kids.
“What would you do if you saw an [electrical] outlet smoking?” he asked.
“Get out of the house,” one boy answered quickly.
Russell said the camp and the demonstrations are good because it’s “all part of a process of raising the awareness for the fire service.”
Shuler said the fire company is “100 percent behind” the camp, with between 10 and 16 volunteers turning out each day to help run the camp. Additionally, he said parents are giving very positive feedback.
“Kids are excited to go home at night. It’s all they’re talking about,” Shuler said.
Not all of the children are from the Limerick Fire Company’s coverage area. One child even hails from Florida.
As such, Shuler thinks the camp will help multiple fire companies, whose chiefs he said have already begun expressing interest in partnering or doing a camp themselves in the future.
There’s also the possibility of expanding to include police and EMT services as early as next year.
And there will be a next year, Shuler said.
“Absolutely,” he nodded.
The kids who attend the camp are also largely not from firefighter families.
“Traditionally,” Shuler said, fire companies were able to recruit from family members.
“Now, it’s just kids have an interest,” he said.
Beyond the recruitment aspect, Shuler said the camp gives children a new avenue to socialize and show their personalities and abilities.
He shared the experience of one camper.
“The one woman came in, she was so thrilled her son was getting involved,” Shuler said. “The one volunteer was telling her, ‘Your son is doing so well, he’s getting involved,’ and she started crying.”
“It’s really about letting kids expand out a little bit,” Shuler concluded, smiling.