The Nassau County Junior Firefighters Association held its first Fire Camp for junior firefighters, ages 13 to 17, at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Bethpage from Monday, July 20 through Friday, July 24. Thirty juniors from fire departments across the county, including Floral Park, learned important skills including how to put out a staged fire in a car and building.
“This is the first time a fire camp was put in place in Nassau County for junior firefighters. The kids do actual firefighting in real gear which weighs around 75 pounds. They learn important skills through activities each day. One activity, called Mass Confidence, involved them going through a smoke-filled area while breathing through an air tank,” said Phil LoNigro, a member of the board of directors for the Nassau County Junior Fire Association and a firefighter at the Farmingdale Fire Department. “They are the future of the fire service and this camp really teaches them what it is like to be a firefighter.”
Joe Leonardi, 14, and Sal Viola, 16, juniors from the Floral Park Fire Department, enjoyed everything about the camp. “I feel good about completing the camp,” said Leonardi.
Ryan Hunt, 15, of the Farmingdale Fire Department, enjoyed everything about the camp. “I really learned a lot from fire camp, and I got to experience what putting a fire out feels like,” he said. “I learned some of this from my advisors at the Farmingdale Fire Department, but learning these more in-depth skills and fighting a real fire is something that I found very educational.”
John Russo, 15, of the Farmingdale Fire Department found the camp challenging and exciting. “We have done trainings at the Farmingdale fire house, but we never really saw a live fire before. The camp was challenging, but I got to learn and experience a lot,” he said.
Putting out a staged fire was the most exciting part of the camp for many of the juniors. A fire was set in a practice building at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy by one of the instructors, and the juniors stood in protective gear in the building as it was burning. Afterwards, they crawled out of the building and put out the fire.
“They got to experience how it feels to breath through a mask, lose visibility and be in such hot temperatures. It’s great practice,” said LoNigro.
Many juniors didn’t expect the building to be as hot as it was.
Mike Vetrone, 16, of the Plandome Fire Department loved the hands-on experience, but was overcome by the heat. “I knew it was going to be hot, but not that hot. It felt around a thousand degrees,” he said.
“I felt the heat through my uniform, and it was very hot. It was great to experience that. I learned a lot from being inside a burning building,” said Brandon Rivera, 15, of the Hicksville Fire Department.
Kelly Hastings, 17, of the Massapequa Fire Department and president of the Nassau County Junior Firefighter Association, said the best thing anyone can do in a burning building—firefighter or not—is to stay calm. “It’s not what you expect. It’s so much hotter and there is very little visibility,” she said. “It’s very important to stay calm in a dangerous situation.”
Steven Rhoads, Nassau County Legislator for the 19th district and ex-captain of the Wantagh Fire Department, thought the fire camp was a great opportunity for the junior firefighters. “The juniors do a tremendous amount of training on their own, and it’s a great reflection on what they already know,” he said. “Joining the fire department is something that requires a lot of time, dedication and courage. They are making such a commitment at a young age.”