Ask any of the 100 or so members of Carroll County's junior fire departments why they joined, and two answers stand out: It's fun, and they want to help people.
But it's also hard work, as 80 young people found out yesterday during the annual Junior Fire Training Day at the Carroll County Fire Training Center in Westminster.
Heidi Meek, 14, from New Windsor Fire and Hose Company No. 1, has been in the program two months. Her specialty is emergency medical services, and she had never experienced the maze - a totally black room with twists, turns, stairs and windows designed to train recruits in firefighting and rescue work.
"That was kind of freaky. I couldn't see anything," she said after emerging with her face flushed and shiny with perspiration.
Firefighting and search-and-rescue are the focus of the annual training day, where youths also learn auto extrication and ladder climbing. In the training center's practice burn building, which was not set on fire for this session, youths were required to take a hose into the structure and search for a victim in total darkness.
"They have to search the room - and it's a real wide room - using proper search techniques," said Kevin Warner, a senior member of Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department. "They have to advance into the house, find the victim and get them out without damaging the victim or themselves."
Lee McGinnis, 13, from Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department, was learning auto extrication, using a hydraulic tool and a cutter.
"I set up the ladder to the window [at the four-story tower] and helped cut a door off a car," he said. "It's pretty fun. I'm pretty sure I want to be a firefighter."
Like Lee, Justin Cohen, 13, is following his father's footsteps.
"I like helping people," said Justin, who is from Pleasant Valley Community Fire Company. "I want to be a firefighter. I like putting out fires."
So does Danny Nott, 14, president of the junior fire department for Manchester Fire Engine and Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.
"My father is fire chief and he taught me a lot and I just want to help people, too," Danny said. "I love firefighting - going in and pulling a person out of a burning building and fighting the flames. It's all the adrenaline running and everything."
The goal of junior fire companies is to encourage young people to stay in the county and become senior members of their fire company.
"It's just a way we're going to keep our volunteer system alive," said Robin Lamb, chairman of the Carroll County Junior Firemen Committee.
"We need to keep the spirit alive. This training day shows them camaraderie, how to work together as a team, and what the other companies are doing."