The McDuffie County Fire Department Cadet Program has accomplished much in its few months of existence. The program, which began in June, allows youth ages 13 to 18 to participate in the same training as current volunteer firefighters. Each cadet must have a sponsor, a firefighter in the department who acts as their mentor.
There are 12 cadets currently in the program. Special recognition was given to the cadets and their mentors during the Firefighter Recognition Banquet.
"It's very refreshing to see 12 young people give of themselves to serve the community," County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said in his speech. "Y'all are the upcoming leaders in our community, and you are showing it right now."
One cadet, 15-year-old Ricardo Smith, gave a speech highlighting how the program has changed his life, and presented his two mentors, Terence Favors and Ed Lewis, with gifts.
"A couple of months ago, I was getting into a lot of trouble, and my Mama, she made me get into the cadet program," he said at the banquet. "It's a good program, and it got me out of trouble, so I want to say thank you to my sponsors."
Fire Chief Bruce Tanner said the cadet program requires participants to maintain a C average in school and to participate in "rigorous training."
"What Ricardo said in his speech is what the program is all about," he said.
Ricardo's mother, Cynthia Smith, said her son was getting involved with the wrong crowd, "lashing out" to authority and to her, was failing in school and was on probation. Now, she said he is doing well in school, his attitude has changed, and he has opened up and talks more. She said some of the guys he used to hang around are in jail now, and she's so thankful that Ricardo doesn't even care to deal with them any more.
"His whole life has just changed," she said. "He's done a complete 180 now. I am so proud of him."
Ricardo said the program is a lot more fun than he expected. At first, he said he didn't realize he would actually get to attend fires. He said he participates in the firefighters' weekly training drills and works a 24-hour shift with his mentor. Chief Tanner said the cadets stay with their mentor at all times during a call, but are not allowed to do anything that is dangerous.
"I feel that this program can make a positive difference in the lives of the young people that are involved in the program. We not only try to teach the basics of the fire service but emphasize the importance of maintaining good grades in school and staying clear of negative influences that may steer them down the wrong path," said Assistant Chief Stephen Sewell.
Another cadet, 13-year-old Austin Reynolds, participated with the competition team that won first place at the Firefighters Muster competition in Evans last month. Austin said he has grown up with the firefighter lifestyle because his father, Bobby, has been with the department for 18 years.
"That young man (Austin) is ahead of the others his age because he's always been with his Daddy," Chief Tanner said.
Other members of the cadets are: Jared Bitterman, Tony Brown, Christopher Hinton, Joanna May, John May, Marcus McCord, Paul McNair, Jim Parish, Chris Pelly and T.J. Ruff.
Cadet mentors are: Stephen Sewell, Steve Parish, Steven Parish, Terence Favors, James Lewis, Jerry Fullwood, Bobby Reynolds, Kevin Perry and Ron May.
The Chief said the program helps the young people, but it helps the department, too. He said he hopes each one of the young people will join the department when they turn 18, and they will already be trained and experienced.