First rung of the firefighting ladder; Junior volunteers learn about fire safety


Between studying algebraic equations and mastering new vocabulary words, 13-year-old Timmy Watson spends the rest of his time contemplating his life several years from now as a volunteer firefighter.

"I have a lot of people in my family who are firefighters, including my dad," said Timmy, an eighth-grader at Elkridge Landing Middle School. "I think it's a cool career, and you get a chance to help out a lot of people."

Timmy is three years shy of being old enough to join the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department as a full member -- but that hasn't stopped him from preparing.

Twice a month, he and a handful of other area youngsters between ages 9 and 15 congregate at the department off Old Montgomery Road, near U.S. 1, to participate in a community-based initiative called the Elkridge Junior Volunteer Firefighters program.

Decked out in blue shirts, they eagerly show up to learn about fire prevention and safety.

"It's a lot of fun," said Timmy, who has been part of the program since March. "We get a chance to tour other fire stations, operate some of the fire equipment, and we get trained in fire safety."

The program, which has been running for the past year, is the brainchild of Lt. Dan Casey, a longtime Elkridge volunteer firefighter who saw the need to involve youths in the department's activities.

"This is an important program for the department and for the community," Casey said. "We train the juniors in everything that the fire department volunteers learn. We treat them as if they are full members."

Advisers, role models

Casey recruited six volunteer firefighters who are part of the 70-member fire department to serve as advisers and role models.

"This is a great opportunity for the juniors," said Jeff Carter, 18, one of Casey's assistants. "It keeps the kids busy and gives them something to do."

Impressed by the program, he recruited his 12-year-old brother, Gregory, to join, and they commute to Elkridge from Columbia -- where they live -- to participate.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Carter stood with fellow advisers Katie Mohan and Kevin Larkins Jr. as they helped the juniors learn the art of tying a knot.

"Good job," Carter called out to Kevin Foard, 12, who joined the program after learning about it from Timmy. "Keep up the good work," Casey chimed in. "You're almost there."

Christyne Peddicord, 13, a freshman at Howard High School, is one of two girls in the program, but that doesn't bother her one bit. She feels she has grown up in the department, especially because her mother used to be part of an ambulance crew affiliated with the department.

"I like everything about it," Christyne said. "We do a lot of stuff."

While looping a rope around to form a tight knot, Christyne gets stuck, and Casey is there to instruct.

As parents watched their children struggle with the rope, it brought back their memories of doing similar events while growing up.

"I think this is a good program for the kids," said Bruce O'Brien, father of one of the junior volunteers, Nick O'Brien. "He's been in the Boy Scouts, played baseball -- but he is most enthusiastic about this program."

Good citizens

In June, the juniors participated in an Elkridge parade. They spend considerable time each month volunteering at the fire department's pancake breakfast for the locals.

But what the juniors say they enjoy most are the field trips and the handling of the fire equipment.

Timmy's father, Donald Watson, a former chief and 30-year veteran of the department, said the program goes a long way toward keeping youngsters occupied.

"This does them some good," Watson said. "They're learning how to become good citizens, and that's a good thing."

Information: Lt. Dan Casey, 410-678-0368.

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