Volunteer fire departments across the country are experiencing a drop in participation. McDuffie County is not immune to that trend, but Fire Chief Bruce Tanner has a plan that he thinks will help the department gain volunteers for the future.
During the June 5 work session, Chief Tanner plans to ask McDuffie County Commissioners for permission to begin a firefighter cadet program. Should it be approved, kids aged 13 to 18 could begin the same training as current volunteer firefighters.
"It's an early step to get younger children kind of started in it so that they could find out if they're interested," Chief Tanner said. "Once they reach 18, it is our hopes that they would go into the department as a volunteer."
Under the program's parameters, each cadet would be under the direct supervision of a specific sponsor, one of the department's current firefighters. In addition to participating in training, the cadets could also assist during a fire by moving hoses or passing out sports drinks to firefighters.
"It's also going to be a benefit in the fact that they can do the support stuff once they get the safety training and those things that they have to have before the can do that," Chief Tanner said.
The fire department has attempted a similar program twice before with limited success. Chief Tanner said under the Boy Scouts' Explorer program in 1996 and again in 2000, the system wasn't tailored to the department's needs, so it only lasted about a year each time.
He said being able to have a little more control will make a big difference in keeping the program up and running. Other nearby fire departments such as Wrens and Martinez-Columbia have also had cadet programs in the past that were independent of the Boy Scouts.
Chief Tanner said his proposal wouldn't cost anything to get up and running. He added that it would not require much more than a commitment on the part of both the sponsor and the cadet.
"In order to even get into the program, one of our volunteers or career people have to agree to be their mentor or sponsor," he said. "...It's not like an application process where we would just accept anybody."
Each cadet would be issued condemned gear that can no longer be used for fighting fires. The cadets would still be able to use the gear for training purposes.
Should commissioners approve the program on Chief Tanner's schedule, it would start within a week of its approval at the June 7 regular meeting.
Four kids are already interested in participating and have sponsors willing to take them on.