WHEELING - Take a good look at the young faces in the photo accompanying this story - someday, they just might be called upon to save your life.
Ben Peace, Larry Kulpa, Emily Anderson and Lexie Langmyer are hard at work this week making sure they'll be ready for that moment as they take part in the annual West Virginia State Fire Academy Junior Firefighter Camp. All four are Wheeling Park High School students and junior firefighters at the Stone Church Volunteer Fire Department.
The event began Saturday and runs through Thursday at the West Virginia University Jackson's Mill 4-H camp in Weston, W.Va. There, they are working alongside more than 100 of their peers from all over the country learning crucial firefighting and emergency response skills.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Four junior members of the Stone Church Fire Department are attending the 2012 West Virginia State Fire Academy Junior Firefighter Camp this week in Weston, W.Va. Pictured at front, from left, are Ben Peace, 17; Jen Costanzo and Bob Smith of S&P Engineering Inc., both fire department members; and Larry Kulpa, 16. Back row, from left, are Emily Anderson, 16, and Lexie Langmyer, 14.
"They learn all about the equipment, engines and how they work, helicopter landings - all that stuff," said Jerry Kulpa, Larry's father and communications director for Stone Church VFD.
Camp activities include exercises in aircraft rescue, fire apparatus, forcible entry, use of breathing apparatus and protective equipment, fire extinguishers, ventilation, dealing with urban and rural water supplies and leadership and team-building.
The experience prepares participants to be certified by the National Fire Protection Association, a distinction which all firefighters - paid or volunteer - must attain.
Broader camp goals include generating interest among youth in becoming long-term members of emergency services, developing leadership and educating parents on the importance of encouraging volunteerism in their children.
This will be the fourth and final camp for Peace, who will be a senior at Wheeling Park High School this fall, and the third for Larry Kulpa, who will be a junior at WPHS. As camp veterans, they will have the opportunity to take part in advanced exercises including hazardous materials training.
Peace said in addition to teaching him the ins and outs of firefighting, participating in the camp has imparted valuable life lessons, such as team-building, cooperation and responsibility.
"It's a great learning experience," he said.
This year's camp will be the first for Anderson and Langmyer. Anderson is a WPHS junior-to-be, and Langmyer will begin her freshman year in the fall.
Jerry Kulpa said Stone Church VFD's junior firefighters all have their own sets of bunker gear, and work each Monday evening at the fire hall.
"They start out doing grunt work ... and they work up to a trusted position," he said, noting the junior firefighters may be called upon to do anything from cleaning up the fire hall to inspecting equipment.
Today's youth, he added, often are unwilling to make a major time commitment, but Stone Church's junior volunteers have proven to be exceptions to that rule.
"To have young kids come in, that's our future," said Jerry Kulpa.
All four junior firefighters said they plan on staying with the department for the forseeable future. Peace and Jerry Kulpa said they are even considering firefighting as a career.
Jerry Kulpa thanked Bob Smith and Jen Costanzo of S&P Engineering Inc. in Wheeling for their help in funding the junior firefighters' trip. Smith is a member of the fire department and Costanzo is the department's treasurer.
The Stone Church VFD is 32 members strong, Jerry Kulpa said, and is celebrating its 41st year serving area residents. One of the department's original members, Bob Davis, is still active and works at the fire hall one day per week. In addition to its usual coverage area, Stone Church also has been filling the void created when the Big Wheeling Creek Fire Department shut down early last year.
Kulpa said even though Stone Church firefighters are unpaid volunteers, they go through the same training as members of paid departments such as the Wheeling Fire Department. They don't jump out of bed to respond to emergency calls because they have to, he noted, but because they want to.
"Always support your local volunteer fire department," Jerry Kulpa said. "You never know when you might need them.