The next generation of first responders

By on January 6, 2020
Kelly Ireland demonstrates ambulance services to Elementary School students during Fire Safety Day. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

Kelly Ireland demonstrates ambulance services to Elementary School students during Fire Safety Day. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

According to a survey published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in April 2019, the number of nationwide volunteer firefighters in 2017 was the lowest on record since the survey began in 1983. At a time when emergency service volunteers are in a 30-year decline, Byron-Bergen students are changing the statistics. 

Sydney Brown, Kelly Ireland, Jillian Menzie, Michael Olander, Andrew Parnapy, and Devon Zinter are full-time high school students. In addition to participating in varsity sports, musical groups, student government, and the school musical, they also volunteer with local fire departments. 

“It’s a big time commitment,” said Sydney, a volunteer firefighter at Elba Volunteer Fire Department. “I joined because I have a long family history in EMS (emergency medical services). I’ve always wanted to do it – so I did it.” She has been with the Elba Volunteer Fire Department for seven months, earning her certification in Exterior Firefighter Operations and Hazardous Materials. This 17-year-old senior is working towards her certification in Interior Firefighter Operations. She plans to become an EMT and pursue a career in firefighting. “I love helping others,” said Sydney. “I help protect the community and everyone’s loved ones.” 

The remaining student volunteers are members of the Bergen Fire Department Explorers program. “They are exceptional students,” said Julie Donofrio, Explorer Program Coordinator and EMT with the Bergen Fire Department. “Each student is certified in CPR, AED (automated external defibrillator), and NARCAN (emergency treatment for suspected opioid overdose). They drill with the full department twice each month; they are trained in first aid, bloodborne pathogens, and hazardous materials; and they started riding along on appropriate calls at age 16. They work hard keeping the service alive for the community.” 

“I enjoy being a part of the fire department because it gives me comfort in knowing that I’m doing good,” said Devon. “I’d rather risk my life to save someone else than do nothing.” Devon is a 17-year-old junior in his fourth year with the Explorers. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career as a mechanic and continue volunteering with the fire department. 

“Many of our student participants are the younger siblings of previous Explorers,” said Donofrio. “We have certified EMTs from the program who have gone off to college, but they still volunteer when they are home on breaks.” 

“My sister, Julia, joined when she was in high school, so I joined with her,” said Jillian Menzie, a 17-year-old senior now in her fourth year with the Explorers. 

Kelly is a 17-year-old junior who joined the Explorers at 13. She and Jillian plan to become certified EMTs before graduation, requiring 600 hours of classwork and seven skills and assessments. “They are very understanding if we have training conflicts,” said Kelly. “They understand we are full-time students and we all have busy schedules.” 

Andrew, a junior, and Michael, a senior, are Restricted Firefighters in the Explorer program. “We are restricted, so we aren’t working all the time during the week,” said Andrew. Michael added, “Yes, we can only volunteer between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.” 

“These students really go above and beyond,” said Byron-Bergen School Resource Officer Matthew Butler. “This kind of volunteer work requires time and extensive training, and it can be stressful. It is a very committed way to give back to the community.” 

As many of these students prepare for graduation, Donofrio and her team hoped to inspire the next group of Explorers at an informational session for eighth, ninth, and tenth-grade students that was held at Byron-Bergen Jr./Sr. High School on December 18. “It’s not about just becoming a firefighter or medic,” said Donofrio. “It’s about the commitment to the community.” 

Provided information

Byron-Bergen Emergency Services student volunteers (l-r) Devon Zinter, Andrew Parnapy, Sydney Brown, Kelly Ireland, and Jillian Menzie. Not pictured: Michael Olander. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

Byron-Bergen Emergency Services student volunteers (l-r) Devon Zinter, Andrew Parnapy, Sydney Brown, Kelly Ireland, and Jillian Menzie. Not pictured: Michael Olander. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

Devon Zinter taking part in a motor vehicle accident drill with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Devon Zinter taking part in a motor vehicle accident drill with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Andrew Parnapy (back right) demonstrates firefighter equipment to Byron-Bergen Elementary School students during Fire Safety Day. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

Andrew Parnapy (back right) demonstrates firefighter equipment to Byron-Bergen Elementary School students during Fire Safety Day. Photo by Gretchen Spittler

Jillian Menzie taking part in a motor vehicle accident drill with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Jillian Menzie taking part in a motor vehicle accident drill with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Michael Olander (r) training on fire hydrant usage, pump operation, and hose advancements with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Michael Olander (r) training on fire hydrant usage, pump operation, and hose advancements with the Bergen Fire Department. Photo used with permission from the Bergen Fire Department.

Sydney Brown (r) taking part in a training session with Elba Volunteer Fire Department. Photo used with permission from Sydney Brown.

Sydney Brown (r) taking part in a training session with Elba Volunteer Fire Department. Photo used with permission from Sydney Brown.