- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

SALTILLO, Miss. (AP) - When Saltillo Fire Chief Mark Nowell started the junior firefighter program in 2015, he was hoping to get youth interested in possible careers.

Jon Sprinkle was one of the first three high schoolers to join last spring and start attending meetings, training and going out on calls with the department. After turning 18 in April, he took the tests to become a full-fledged firefighter.

In July, Sprinkle became the first junior to be certified as a volunteer firefighter. Chris Hindo also turned 18 and even though he is still in high school, he was certified as a firefighter earlier this month.

That leaves just one person in the junior program.

“We haven’t set a date, but soon, we will go back to Saltillo High School and start recruiting for the junior program,” Nowell said. “They meet twice a month and have to make 75 percent of the meetings to be a candidate in good standing.”

Career path

Sprinkle was a manager for the Saltillo football team and began meeting with Nowell to learn more about wrapping ankles and wrists. When the junior program started, he was ready.

Junior candidates are paired with an adult mentor. They learn the rules of firefighting while training. Juniors are given a pager and a radio call sign. While juniors get to respond to fire and medical calls, it is always in a non-lethal backup role.

“I remember going to a grass fire early one morning,” Sprinkle said. “There was a structure fire about an hour later. Then after that, I went to high school.”

The odd hours and hard work might have deterred some, but Sprinkle was attracted to the people and the job.

“I wanted to help other people,” Sprinkle said. “The people in the fire department accept you as a family. The EMS, police and fire work together like one big family.”

The quest to become a volunteer firefighter also helped Sprinkle focus on a future. The Itawamba Community College freshman will start taking emergency medical technician classes in January as he tries to decide between paramedic, radiologist or surgery technician.

Passing the test

Even though the junior firefighters attend the training classes and workouts, they still have to pass the three part certification - a written test, physical agility test and an interview.

The physical test is broken into three sections - a 150-foot hose drag, the ladder carry and the hydrant connection. The last one is the toughest. The candidate has to get a hose off the truck, connect it to the hydrant, turn the hydrant on, charge the hose with water, turn the hydrant off, unhook the hose, drain the hose, roll the hose and put it back on the truck. And they have to do it in three minutes.

“You have four chances to complete the hydrant test. I did it on the third try,” Sprinkle said. “But I picked the wrong time of year. I did it in July.”

But following his successful interview, he was issued a 911 radio, turnout gear and a new fire department number. On the radio, Sprinkle is now known officially as Saltillo 15.


Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com



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