Fire departments across the country are facing a lack of new firefighters, including Lewis County. There are, however, several junior firefighters in each of the six departments that are in training now. Weston Fire Department has three and Jane Lew Volunteer Fire Department has one.
James Caldwell, Nathaniel Schrader, and Ryan Burkhammer are currently in training with WFD, and Bobby Fisher is in training with JLVFD. All trainees have firefighters in their families, and are aware of the dangers they may face.
Burkhammer’s uncle, Jason Lipps, is an assistant chief with WFD. Lipps asked Burkhammer if he would be interested in joining the fire department at 16, and he said yes. Burkhammer began taking classes in July 2015, and will be taking Firefighter II classes next. Burkhammer said he enjoys being part of the WFD.
Burkhammer is planning to attend Fairmont State University and major in civil engineering. He plans to live in Lewis County and commute, but will still volunteer. He said being part of the department is like a family. They help each other with anything they need and they treat him well.
“Everybody’s close,” said Burkhammer.
Schrader grew up in a home of firefighters, and his dad, Heath, is a volunteer for WFD. Schrader said he told his dad in the car he wanted to be a firefighter when they were riding home from the station. He is currently in Firefighter I, and will test May 25.
Schrader is a junior in high school, and said he doesn’t know what he wants to do upon graduating.
“I love volunteering and hanging out with those cool people. It’s like a big family,” he added.
Schrader has not been out on a call yet, but is there to help when crews come back in from a call. He has to pass a truck test, too. That test is to ensure he knows where everything is located on the truck.
“They don’t want you trying to find one tool while they’re waiting,” said Schrader.
Schrader said he tells his friends that becoming a firefighter is a great thing to do.
“You definitely have to have the right mind set to do it,” he said.
Fisher is training through Jane Lew Volunteer Fire Department, and said he never had an interest in becoming a firefighter as he grew up in a home of law enforcement officers. His step-mom was a firefighter, though, and it peaked his interest.
Fisher signed up at the age of 15, and has taken Firefighter I. He said after high school, he plans on joining the Marine Corps. Fisher has to pick a military occupational specialty (MOS) and said firefighter is his first pick. “I love doing this,” he said.
Fisher repeated the sentiments of the other junior firefighters regarding being part of the department.
“It’s like having a bunch of big brothers,” Fisher said.
Caldwell is taking Firefighter I now, and will also test on May 25. His uncle, Jeff Sanders, is a chief in Clarksburg.
Caldwell said his favorite part of being a junior firefighter is the search and rescue. He would like to be a paid firefighter, but if not he will still volunteer. He also likes the cameraderie at the fire department.
“It is like a family,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell has been out on calls with the department, his first call was a house fire in Weston. He said it was scary at first, but he is not antsy so much anymore.
Caldwell plans to stay in Weston after graduating, and would like to enroll in a trade school for construction. He wants to remain a part of the department, though.
Caldwell and Schrader attended drills at the State Fire Academy in Butchersville Sunday. Their mentor at WFD is Matt Reed, who they meet with every week. Both Schrader and Caldwell agreed he has been a good mentor.
At the academy, they practiced putting out a car fire, entering the fire trailer, search and rescue,and ladder drills. Eleven Lewis County residents attended Sunday’s drills.
“This is a good group of kids, and a good group of instructors,” Instructor Mike Hart said,.