The ninth annual Junior Firefighter Camp got underway Saturday in Lewis County at the WVU Fire Service Extension in Butchersville. About 130 teens from 15 states come to the camp to learn the skills firefighters use daily in their jobs. Most of the students are new each year, but others like Shariah McCarty have returned for a second year to turn complete strangers into friends.
"It's hard. You try and fit in, and by the end of the week, you have brothers, you have friends, you have best friends. It's pretty fun, it's basically a big competition," McCarty said.
McCarty's advanced group took on a special challenge Tuesday afternoon. The five companies responded to a mock accident with more than a dozen injured people. Veteran firefighters were on hand to help them handle the scene. McCarty said learning tactics from the instructors and campers from other states is one of the more interesting parts of the week.
"It's mostly about meeting new people from different states and learning how their companies work, and learning new tactics and meeting instructors that volunteer their own time so they can come and teach us so we can make the world better and mostly help people in the public," said McCarty.
While there's plenty of fun for the kids, it's not a pleasure cruise. Staff members teach the campers discipline by showing them how to properly care for the flag and by organizing them into companies with commanders. Program director Lanny Adkins said he can see the difference the camp makes in the teens by the end of the week.
"I've said this all along, they come in here and they cry the first day because they want to go home and don't want to be here. On the last day they cry again because they don't want to go home. And that tells you that you've done something in their life," Adkins said.