- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

BERLIN, Md. | Josh Kirstein enjoys helping people as an Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company cadet. But the future firefighter doesn’t mind the affirmation he receives either.

“It’s fun because you get to help people,” he said. “You get a lot of handshakes and high-fives.”

And he’s not kept from real service just because he’s a cadet, part of a program created for boys and girls from 14 to 18 years old at fire departments in Maryland. The 10th-grader rode along with volunteer firefighters to last year’s fire at the Dough Roller restaurant on the resort town’s boardwalk.

“We’re trying to prepare them,” said Cliff Christello, a deputy fire marshal in Ocean City. “Some go on to do it as a career or become volunteers. It’s a good way for them to see if they’re interested, and it gives them a chance to become leaders.”

He said the junior members provide support as they ride along on firetrucks, and the cadets also put away equipment after the emergency has been resolved.

Cadets meet once a week in most programs and use drills to learn and sharpen firefighting skills. Becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) is also an option for junior members, if they take more than 100 hours of classes and pass the tests and practice runs.

Allen Law, a 12th-grader at Stephen Decatur High School, recently received his EMT certification after taking his classes and tests last summer.

“It’s rewarding because you’re helping people in the community you already live in,” he said.

All the cadets from Stephen Decatur qualified for a Presidential Service Award because of how much time they’ve invested in the program.

But accolades and affirmation aside, cadet Dean Bush of the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department said the cadets have become “a second family.” And cadets are learning to save lives, serve others, gain job skills and perhaps find their career.

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