Kids get hands-on experience in classes at fire department

Published 12:10 am Thursday, July 27, 2023

SPENCER — Seven eager faces watched intently as Fire Chief Michael Lanning adjusted the Jaws of Life tool against the door of a car in the parking lot of the Spencer fire department Wednesday morning, waiting patiently for their chance to get their own chance to operate the tool.

It marked the last day of a three-day training and education program for youth that was run by Spencer Fire Department, and seven kids who were between sixth and ninth grade participated. Lanning said this was the first year of the program and he has high hopes it will grow into a week-long series and that there will eventually be a waiting list.

“We allowed for 10 participants, and we got seven applications,” he said. “So we were able to accept them all. But only two of them are from Spencer, so our reach is pretty wide.” He also hopes other area departments will decide to copy the idea.

“I read about other classes, other departments offering similar things and wanted to give kids here a chance to get their hands really on the process,” he said. And in part, it is an investment in the future, because right now, applications for jobs in fire departments and in public safety overall are down across the country. His hope is that at least a percentage of those to get to participate in these classes will go on to actually become firefighters, and at least among this first group, he may be in luck.

Ty’Tiana Clemons, 14 and the one girl in the group, said her whole family is in emergency services, either as firefighters, EMTs or nurses, and she wants to follow suit. Her brother, Colby Smith, is one of Spencer’s firefighters and was working with the class this week.

“It’s been a good class,” Clemons said. “It hasn’t been too bad being the only girl, they don’t really treat me any differently.”

Hunter Lanning, son of Chief Lannning, and Drake Johnson, whose father David Lee Johnson is fire chief at Scotch Irish, both said they had no qualms at all about a woman doing the job.

“As long as the person can do the job, I don’t care if they are male or female, what color they are, none of that matters,” said Drake.

“That’s right,” said Hunter. “I would want someone I trust on my team, someone who would have my back, and I don’t care if they are boy or girl, I just want to know I can rely on them.”

Both Hunter and Drake want to be firefighters, and in fact, both want to take over for their fathers.

“I want to take my dad’s job one day,” said Hunter.

“I want my dad to keep his job until I can come along and take it over and continue his dream,” added Drake.

Those three were joined by Tyler Wilhoit, Tyriq Harris, Callen Eberle and Evan Baker, who over a three-day period really got some hands-on experience, from getting aboard the Life Flight helicopter to prying open car doors to climbing up the ladder on a ladder truck to seeing first hand how a fire reacts to more or less oxygen.

The Spencer camp is named after firefighter Justin Monroe, one of two firefighters who lost their lives fighting a fire. Monroe, 19, and Vic Isler, 40, died while fighting a fire at Salisbury Millworks on March 7, 2008.

Since then, Monroe’s mother, Lisa, has worked to keep her son’s name and memory alive, so when she was informed the camp would be named for Justin, she was incredibly happy.

“It’s just awesome, that they would do that,” she said. Justin was a Spencer, Salisbury and Miller’s Ferry firefighter. “This is something special for kids, because especially in the summer they get bored. And I am always honored when something keeps my son’s memory alive. He worked with the junior firefighters in Miller’s Ferry so this would be right up his alley. He would be very pleased.” During the first day of classes on Monday, Lisa got to tell the kids about Justin, and she said they wanted to see his pictures and hear about who he was.

“If we can give these kids the same heart and ambition that Justin had for this field, that’s an accomplishment,” said Lanning.

There is no charge for the camp, Lanning said, because he didn’t want cost to be barrier to a child’s participation. The department received donations from the Justin Monroe and Victor Isler Memorial Skeet Shoot, an annual event that uses funds raised to support a number of things, and from Civic Federal Credit Union, which helped cover costs. In addition, Lanning said Atlantic Emergency Solutions, from whom the town purchased its most recent fire truck, paid for lunch for the campers on Tuesday.

All students did have to wear full turnout gear during Wednesday morning’s exercises to prevent any possible injury, and while they were all excited to suit up, by the time each one’s turn was done, they were more than happy to get out of the uniforms and get something cold to drink.

“Dad, I don’t know how you do that,”said Drake. “It was hot!”