ROCKINGHAM — The next generation of Richmond County’s first responders will finish their week-long introduction to the equipment and skills law enforcement, firefighters and rescue squad personnel use to save lives with a relaxing day in the pool on Thursday.
This year is the second year of the combined Junior Police and Fire Academy, a four-day camp run by the Rockingham Police and Fire departments, formerly only the Junior Police Academy.
The 35 cadets watched demonstrations of fundamental aspects of the job, including how a K-9 officer tracks drugs and any other foreign objects that could be useful to a case, CPR and choking prevention for different scenarios, and how the SWAT Team handles a hostage situation.
“When I eventually transition out they’ll be beginning their careers,” said Fire Chief Harold Isler. “Some of them are future (firefighters and police officers) and they don’t even know it yet.”
Like Isler, who started his job as a firefighter the year his father retired from the police force, many of the cadets were following in the footsteps of their parents.
Jessie Broadwater, 17, is on the volunteer rescue squad like his father — who was on a fire and rescue squad before he died from a heart attack. He said his father’s passing “hit me like a brick.”
“He had a big impact on me in terms of what I could do for the public,” Broadwater said. “I want to save lives.”
Broadwater added that the new skill he learned at the academy was how to perform CPR on an infant.
Zane Searcy, 12, of Rockingham had a similar story. His father, a magistrate, also passed away from a heart attack and now he’s deciding whether he wants to be a magistrate or a cardiologist — “you save lives either way.”
“I want to be able to protect people from (a heart attack),” Searcy said. “It’s a horrible thing to happen to someone.”
The cadets’ time with the fire department included of a tour of the fire station, with a thorough run down of the features on the fire trucks; CPR and fire extinguisher training; and a game of “tug of war” in which the cadets teamed up to control the hoses (spraying at reduced strength) to push a buoy on a rope above them to the opposing side.
Brett Anderson, 12, of Rockingham said CPR was the most important thing he learned at the fire station because now he can save his mom or his own child from choking.
Kristy Player, the CPR instructor and administrative assistant for the fire department, said the cadets practiced doing cycles of 30 chest compression and two mouth-to-mouth breaths on an adult and infant dummy. While the cadets aren’t yet eligible to be CPR certified, Player said them knowing how to do the basics could save a friend or family member’s life, and listed circumstances — like a stay with their grandparents, being alone with their younger siblings, going to the pool or just being around someone with a medical condition — as situations where the skills could be key.
The fire extinguisher demonstration gave cadets a chance to practice on a real fire contained in a barrel. Isler showed them how to maneuver in relation to the wind to keep fire and dust from the extinguisher from blowing back in their faces — but one cadet couldn’t avoid that. Struggling with the pin and the grip on the heavy red cylinder, he squeezed the trigger with both hands, causing the nozzle to flail in every direction and shoot him right in the face (fire extinguishers are an eye irritant but not significantly harmful in small amounts).
“He’s getting old!” one cadet shouted, referring to the other cadet’s hair turning grey from the dust. Isler said it makes the fire department’s job easier when residents are more proactive about using their fire extinguisher. The young firefighters found that if they didn’t hold the extinguisher on the fire long enough, it would quickly flame up again.
“Fire lives,” Isler explained. “It needs heat, fuel and oxygen and the powder (from the fire extinguisher) takes the oxygen away … water takes away the heat.”
The cadets had varying interests:
Aaron Boone, 13, said he wants to be an engineer who builds fire trucks.
Mikayla Tucker, 12, said she wants to investigate criminals.
Nikolas Daughtrey, 13, is more interested in the forensic side dissecting crime scenes for clues, but said he still gets squeamish about injuries to the neck.
Daughtrey and Searcy, cousins and return cadets, said the departments went “all out” this year, especially with the tour of the fire department. Both agreed that the academy had a better pace and was more interesting with the addition of training videos, more information about drug investigations and an explanation of the different classes of fires and how to best deal with each.
Daughtrey said one area of improvement he’d like to see next year is more hands-on activities, like puzzle games where the cadets are presented with a crime-scene scenario and have to determine what happened.
Police Chief Billy Kelly said the purpose of the academy is to let the cadets see “what community service is.”
“It’s rewarding to know that they share that interest,” Kelly said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to see public service at work at a young age.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]