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Scriba Teens Train With, Assist Firefighters

SCRIBA, NY – Many youngsters have dreams of one day becoming a firefighter.

For a group of teen-agers in Scriba, that dream is becoming a reality.

Derek Natoli (RAM) is repelling while First Assistant Chief Lora Wehrmann watches from below.
Derek Natoli (RAM) is repelling while First Assistant Chief Lora Wehrmann watches from below.

They all have part-time or full-time jobs. Some are taking summer classes to get ahead of the game and all are giving much of their free time to the Scriba Volunteer Fire Department.

Captain Andy Krule of the Scriba Volunteer Fire Department is conducting a RAM (Restricted Active Member) Program for some children of active department members.

“Right now, we have five kids participating in our RAM program. We plan to open it up to more in the future; but for now, we’ll keep it manageable until we see how it goes,” explained Bill McSweeney, another SVFD member, who is assisting Capt. Krule with the program. “This program has been around for some time, but it is new to us. We take these youngsters and teach them in a hands-on fashion the responsibilities of firefighters.”

Over the weekend, they practiced repelling (climbing down the side of tall structures using ropes).

Chelsea Oughterson (RAM) is going over the wall with the help of Lt. Shawn Simoneau.
Chelsea Oughterson (RAM) is going over the wall with the help of Lt. Shawn Simoneau.

“These kids, some of whom will be high school juniors or seniors in the fall, are attending our regular Tuesday night drills as well as special RAM drills on Saturday mornings,” McSweeney said. “They are taught how to assist on a real emergency scene and many have already been active during real emergency situations. We, of course, restrict their participation in some areas, but these RAM members have hooked up fire hydrants on a real structure fire call and have assisted on all sorts of emergencies. Some are among our top responders.”

The RAM program is for 16- and 17-year-olds, Krule said. It lets them do many things with the fire department.

“There are some limits,” McSweeney pointed out. “The big three are they can’t direct traffic, they can’t use tools (i.e. Jaws of Life) at a car accident and they can’t go into a burning structure.  At age 18, they become full members automatically, and can do all those things and everything a trained firefighter can do.”

During the students’ time as a RAM there are other considerations; it’s not all about training to be a firefighter, McSweeney added.

Amanda Bennett (RAM) climbs down the training scaffold as Lt. Jesse McWain holds the rope. Lieutenant Mark Sawyer takes a picture of the training.
Amanda Bennett (RAM) climbs down the training scaffold as Lt. Jesse McWain holds the rope. Lieutenant Mark Sawyer takes a picture of the training.

“We need a copy of each report card and review them. We will tutor or whatever needs to be done with a RAM to see they pass. But, if they fail two consecutive semesters, they’re out of the program.”

This hasn’t happened to anyone in the inaugural class, he said, adding that the kids are all honor students.

Respect is also a big part of the program.

Sometimes the kids make a snide remark about someone or something “as kids will do,” McSweeney noted. “And we tell them, ‘there is no place for that here.'”

The program in Scriba is still in its infancy stage, but the students are doing very well, Krule said.

“We’ll be opening this up to other people a year or two after we get this under our belt,” he said. “We wanted to do it with our kids just so we could get a feel for it. They’ll give us honest feedback.”

“Most of these kids have been hanging around here since they were 12 or 13,” McSweeney said. “That’s part of the reason our program came about. The chief asked Andy and I to over see this because we both have kids in the program.”

“We have seen a big improvement in these kids in just the short time we’ve had this program. They are pretty much coming together as a team. They really gotten so that they jell together as a team,” Krule said. “They are a team, and that’s a good thing.”

Amanda Bennett is a recent OHS graduate.

Said she joined because her sister and the rest of her family as well have always been involved in the fire department.

Billy McSweeney repelling and Lt. Mark Sawyer holds the safety rope. Looking on are Lt. Jesse McWain and First Assistant Chief Lora Wehrmann. Standing outside the fence is Lt. Noyes.
Billy McSweeney repelling and Lt. Mark Sawyer holds the safety rope. Looking on are Lt. Jesse McWain and First Assistant Chief Lora Wehrmann. Standing outside the fence is Lt. Noyes.

“I want to be involved as well,” she said. She plans on majoring in “vet tech with a minor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton.”

She hopes to become an AEMT (Animal Emergency Medical Technician) or work for an SPCA.

Saturday wasn’t her first time repelling.

“I took a public safety class out at BOCES, and we do that out there as well,” she said. “This is the tallest structure, however. I had fun; I actually like doing this kind of stuff, it doesn’t scare me. I guess I’m a daredevil.”

The class has learned about the various equipment firefighters use and how to set up support for fire calls, they also assist the auxiliary with its main functions, she said.

“We pretty much do everything except go into a live fire,” she said.

For 17-year-old Chelsea Oughterson, Saturday was her first time repelling.

“At first it was really scary; my hands were locked up because it is just such a weird feeling (leaning backwards off of the structure with nothing below you). It feels like you’re just going to fall back into nothing,” she said. “But after the second time it was better, you definitely have more confidence.”

She entered the program about six months ago when she was still 16.

Her brother, Jessie McWain, is a lieutenant in the department.

At right, Chelsea Oughterson is repelling and Lt. Mark Sawyer holds the rope. On the left Mark Dunham is repelling as Lt. Jessie McWain helps.
At right, Chelsea Oughterson is repelling and Lt. Mark Sawyer holds the rope. On the left Mark Dunham is repelling as Lt. Jessie McWain helps.

“At first I joined the program because of my brother. We’re really close and I wanted to hang out with him. Plus I just like to try new things,” she said. “I also like proving people wrong that I can do stuff like this when they don’t think I can.”

She will be a senior at OHS this year, and hasn’t decided on a career yet.

However, if she decides to become a firefighter down the road, this program does a great job preparing you,” she noted. “It gives you a head start. I’m not totally sure yet what I want to do but this is definitely an option.”

She would recommend the RAM program to anyone who wants to find out what being a firefighter is really like.

“It’s so much fun. Definitely it’s a really cool experience and it teaches you so much while you’re doing it,” she said. “It’s something that I never though that I’d be doing, but I’m glad that I did.”

Derek Natoli is 17 and has been in the program more than a year and a half.

He plans to pursue degree in fire science/prevention.

His late father was a past chief of the department and has an annual award named in his memory.

“My father was into this before he died and I want to continue everything for him,” Derek said.

He also got his first taste of repelling last fall at BOCES.

“This is a good program. It gives kids who are interested in the fire service and hand-on opportunity to find out what it is really like,” he added. “And, it does a really good job at it.”

Other members of the program include:

Mark Dunham, 16. He will be a junior this year. He plays on the football and wrestling teams.

He started in the RAM program just after his 16th birthday about five months ago. He plans on becoming a firefighter, and admits to having always been interested in fire trucks.

His stepfather is a captain on the Scriba department.

And 16-year-old Bill McSweeney, son of one of the instructors.

He is on the varsity swim team and is a member of the OHS Marching Band.

He suffered a terrible accident and was saved by the Scriba VFD (along with others). He plans on pursuing a degree in fire science/ fire engineering

He has been a member of RAM for eight months.

3 Comments

  1. What an awesome program! This is EXACTLY what it’s all about – providing kids with excellent mentors and giving them the real-life experience they need to help prepare them for their future.

    Kudos to Scriba Volunteer Fire Department!!

    Sabrina MacDougall
    Castaic, CA
    District Manager
    Junior Achievement of Southern California

  2. Wow! This is sooooo amazing! I wish I lived out there so I could join you! Looks like loads of fun!!

    ~Haley
    Castaic, California

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