When Austin Jones turned 18 years old recently, his status with the Minden Fire Department changed from junior firefighter to volunteer firefighter.
“I always thought it would be cool to be a fireman and I like helping people and serving the community,” Jones, who along with his twin brother Sutton was a JFF, said.
Fire Chief Kip Mourad says a JFF has to be 17 years old, limiting their service to one year.
“They have to be 17 because I don’t want anyone 16 and under driving to a fire,” Mourad said. “I know how I did when I was driving to a fire, and I don’t want any of the kids doing that. No volunteer firefighters are allowed to “run hot” (with sirens and lights) to a fire. They have to obey the law at all times.”
The JFF program was an accepted part of the local department – mostly to allow children and grandchildren of firefighters to learn about fighting fires and rescuing the injured.
“I started at 15, and I know how it impacted my life,” Mourad, whose father was a fire captain for many years, said. “My son (Jared) – Chief (T.C.) Bloxom – put him on at 16. He is a Shreveport firefighter now.”
But the age and dangers associated with firefighting prompted Mourad to prepare standard operating guidelines for junior firefighters in February 2009.
“They have to fill out applications and the parents have to sign it,” Mourad said. “JFFs serve as a support role for senior firefighters. They are allowed to roll and load hoses and retrieve tools at a fire scene.”
A JFF must keep at least a C grade average and cannot respond to a call during school hours.
Jones says one of the biggest challenges in being a JFF was learning about the equipment. The biggest fire call he’s answered was on Abney Street two weeks ago.
“He made entry wearing an air pack,” Mourad said of Jones. “He was old enough, so he worked.”
Jones says although the fire was major, it wasn’t a frightening experience.
“When you go in, you start thinking a little bit about what if the roof collapses,” he said. “You think about the things that could go wrong, but it wasn’t that bad. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush.”
A JFF is trained in all fire ground aspects with the exception of entering any fire hot zone. That person attends a weekly fire drill and participates in some of the training.
“They (firefighters) went out to LSU (training center) at Camp Minden Monday,” Mourad said. “They did a confined space rescue training. That’s something they cannot do at 17.”
Jones has been to the training center, but Monday night was the first time he was allowed to participate in all training.
He says he learned to fit in tight spaces.
“We learned ways to maneuver with the air pack on,” he said. “You just have to stay calm. The worst thing you can do is start panicking.”
Since the twins have turned 18, Mourad has only two junior firefighters on his roster. He would like to have more; however, outfitting them becomes a problem if he gets too many.
“We have some old stuff that has been taken out of service,” Mourad said. “The junior firefighters get those because they’re not going to go into the fire.”
Mourad likes to have a large number of adult volunteer firefighters because he is never sure how many will answer a call. With adult volunteers, cost is also a factor.
“It costs a lot to bunker them out,” the chief said. “For one person, it’s about $3,500 for your basic turn-out gear and a pager.”
To fill out an application to be a junior firefighter, contact Mourad at the Central Fire Station, 1213 Sheppard Street or call 371-4232.