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Volunteers offer training, guidance for youth

Frank March, director of the junior program at the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department, holds the door at the station open for English Consul Junior Volunteer firefighter Danielle Latchford, 6, of Halethorpe before a meeting at the department in Baltimore Highlands on Nov. 11.
Frank March, director of the junior program at the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department, holds the door at the station open for English Consul Junior Volunteer firefighter Danielle Latchford, 6, of Halethorpe before a meeting at the department in Baltimore Highlands on Nov. 11. (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Nineteen children aspiring to be volunteer firefighters fidgeted in their seats as they listened to Frank March talk about the history of firefighting at the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department in Baltimore Highlands last week.

"Fire alarms came into existence with the invention of the telegraph," March said to the group, seated at two long tables in the station's fire hall, many wearing navy blue T-shirts bearing the fire department's name.

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March said in the past five to 10 years, the station has had fewer people interested in becoming volunteer firefighters but hopes the department will attract new volunteers through its Juniors Program, one of the oldest of its kind in the state.

"Volunteerism as a whole has gone down...Today's society is much different. There is much less time to volunteer than there was in the past," said Craig Coleman, administrator for the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association.

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The volunteers at English Consul call their program for those ages 5 through 16 a "farm system" because it's a way to fill their ranks when older members retire, said March, who serves as director of the program.

ECVFD is one of 35 volunteer fire companies in Baltimore County that work alongside firefighters from the county's 25 career stations. The volunteers raise operating money through fundraisers, bingo games and other community activities. Volunteer departments also receive some funds from the county, according to the Baltimore County website.

English Consul's Juniors program has been teaching generations the basics on how to become a firefighter, whether as a volunteer or as a career.

"We try to teach them everything that we teach the senior firefighters, so that they will have a heads up," said March, who began his 55 years at the department as a junior when he was 11.

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The program teaches fire safety techniques, the duties and responsibilities of firefighters and the equipment they use.

"A lot of people have the misconception that we just sit around and play cards...well that's really not true," March said.

There are currently between 30 and 35 kids enrolled in the program, which runs continuously throughout the year.

Those taking part pay $5 in dues each year and hold their own fundraisers, just like the adult volunteers do.

The money goes into the group's separate bank account and the kids are responsible for keeping track of the money, said Sam Suter, a suppression lieutenant who teaches in the program.

"It teaches them a better work ethic," Suter said. "If you want something, you have to earn it."

It is not just open to those in the community, and many beyond the Baltimore Highlands neighborhood take advantage of the program, March said.

Georgette Ellison, sat in the room, as her son Christian, 13, listened to March's lesson.

Her son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar Disorder, Ellison said. That is why she enrolled him in the program 18 months ago.

"When I heard about this program, we started traveling all the way from Dundalk," Ellison said. "It's really helped because, at times, he had really severe behavioral problems. He's not one for listening to adults, but he respects Mr. March."

The eyes of the adults in the program lit up when talking about the role the volunteer fire department plays in their lives. Many of the department's current members went through the program to eventually become volunteer firefighters at the age of 16.

"It's something that we do to give back to the community," March said.

Families in the community have made it a family tradition to participate in the program.

Robert Bury Sr., 55, the station chief, for example, works alongside his sons, Robert "Robbie" Bury Jr., assistant chief, and Matthew Bury, 18, who attends Lansdowne High School.

"It basically kept me out of trouble," Bury Jr. said, seated next to his father.

"It teaches you to become a firefighter," he said. "Some of the stuff we learned in the juniors program I still use today."

Matthew Bury, the youngest of his family to join, said, "I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and older brother and I also wanted to help people."

Beyond firefighting skills, those in the program learn discipline and social skills they need to be successful adults, the volunteer firefighters say.

Each juniors program meeting begins with the pledge of allegiance and roll call, administered by the students, who take on the roles of president, vice president and secretary, similar to meetings held by adults who run the station.

"It teaches you the social skills you need at a very young age," Bury Sr. said. "Most kids in school don't respect authority. When you're in [the Juniors program] you have the ranking structure...discipline is a very big part of what we do."

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