Local high school students interested in firefighting have an opportunity available to get started even while they’re still in school.
The City of Houston Fire Department offers a Junior Firefighter program that gives the kids first-hand experience in many aspects of firefighting, including proper use of breathing apparatus and “bunker gear” (firefighter outfits), how to get in and out of a fire truck and more.
The program began in the early 1990s. Houston Fire Chief Robbie Smith was part of the department’s first group of Junior Firefighters and went on to be a professional fireman, spending 14 years with the West Plains Fire Department and many years as a contract firefighter, annually going out West to help the U.S. Forest Service and other entities battle big wildfires.
Smith said that when he was young, his dream was always to be in firefighting.
“The program was very instrumental in allowing me to pursue that and step in with the rest of the guys,” he said. “It really gives you a great idea of what you’re getting into. It helps a young person decide that this is really something they want to do or if it’s something that’s not for them.”
Smith said his primary goal for the program is to give kids that same type of experience.
“It’s really about giving them the chance to find out if this might be something they want to do in the future, maybe even as a career,” he said. “If it is something they want to pursue, I want to be there to help guide them.”
There are currently four Houston High School students who are active cadets with the City of Houston department and can join department personnel on actual responses: Seniors Logan Cary and CJ Lee and juniors Shelby Ozier and John Wallace. Lee, 18, has completed hazardous materials and basic firefighting training and has subsequently attained “black helmet” status. Cary will soon reach the same level, while Ozier and Wallace are each 17 and have about another year to go.
Houston’s Junior Firefighter program includes another eight students ages 15 or 16 who are allowed to attend department meetings and training sessions, but not join in on responses.
All four cadets said that in addition to learning the nuts-and-bolts aspects of firefighting, the program has also helped them learn a lot about teamwork, camaraderie, responsibility, respect and the benefits of working hard toward a common goal.
Lee said there’s a real feeling of accomplishment that comes with firefighting.
“Just knowing you’ve helped save someone’s house is great,” he said. “It’s nice knowing you’ve helped someone out like that.”
Cary said he wants to become a full-time firefighter.
“I see it as a good way to help people in the community,” he said.
Ozier said she enjoys the actual act of battling flames and heat.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline,” she said. “I really like it.”
Wallace also has plans to stay with firefighting, and sees the Junior Firefighter program as a great way to prepare for a future in the field.
“You get to go through all the training,” he said, “and then when you get to that certain age when you can move up in rankings, you’ll know what to do in certain scenarios.”
The Houston Junior Firefighter program works closely with the Raymondville Junior Firefighter program, which currently has four students enrolled. HHS students interested in joining the program can contact Smith or any other City of Houston FD member to arrange obtaining the necessary paperwork.
“I love the program,” Smith said. “It’s a huge asset and it meant a lot to me in getting me to where I wanted to go. And it allows these students to experience something that didn’t used to be available.”