Each teen’s face bore a smile as he stepped back onto the ground in front of Fire Station No. 1 and took off his helmet.
The boys are the first to participate in the department’s “Fire Explorers” program, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America and overseen by Anniston fire Sgt. Rodney Ball. The program, Ball said, was created to give kids interested in firefighting as a career a first-hand look at the job.
Ball said he received applications from more than 20 kids interested in the program and he handpicked his first group. The sergeant said if this group is a success he’d like to open up space for more Anniston teens.
“I hope we can develop these kids to come in one day and work for us,” Ball said.
The program will meet once a week, Ball said, and the kids will learn about firefighting in a classroom and then put what they’ve learned to use. The sergeant said the teens will learn the ins and outs of a fire truck, what to do on the scene of a car accident and how to rescue someone in a confined space.
If the teens are committed to the program, Ball said, they’ll get their own helmets, boots and fire-resistant turnouts to wear when they go to a fire. The gear costs around $2,000 per person and would come from the department’s fire tax funding.
Because of age restrictions, 16-year-old Eric Brown is currently the only boy in the program eligible to ride in a fire truck to a scene. Ball said Brown will be assigned to a truck and shadow a rookie firefighter to help with whatever he can.
Brown said he volunteers with the Weaver Fire Department and is ready for the program to get started.
“I’ve been waiting to do it. It’s going to be fun,” he said.
All the teens said they’re considering careers as firefighters and some are even willing to quit after-school activities to give their full attention to the program.
Chance Townsend, 13, and Scott Burnett, 15, both play baseball for Sacred Heart Catholic School. Both boys said they’d “quit baseball” if their sports schedule interfered with their fire training.
Stuart Lowery, 13, said the program will give him a better understanding of what his dad does as an Anniston firefighter.
“He’s always telling me what he does and it’ll be fun to actually get to do it,” Lowery said.
The teens are expected to have their own rank system, Ball said, in which one boy would be named captain and two named lieutenants. Ball said when he studied other fire explorer programs in Birmingham and Huntsville they used a rank system to handle disagreements among the group.
“If anybody had a problem they wanted them to handle it within themselves,” he said.
Ball said the Anniston firefighters have discussed specific rules for the program to keep everyone safe.
“If it’s a structure fire you do not make entry until that fire is out,” Ball said. “Whatever the officer in charge says, you do it.”
Melissa Burnett, Scott’s mother, said she thinks the program is a good promotion for the Anniston Fire Department and good for the kids involved. Burnett said her son has always wanted to be a firefighter.
“It’s his childhood dream. He has never wanted anything else,” Burnett said.
Anniston fire Chief Tony Taylor gave the teens some advice to succeed in the program.
“It’s like anything else, you get what you put into it,” Taylor said. “Be dedicated.”
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.