DRYDEN, N.Y. — The Dryden Fire Department has been lively this week with the addition of about 20 kids taking part in the Junior Fire Academy, a tradition in Dryden that gives kids a behind-the-scenes look at what firefighters and other emergency responders do, and teaches them about fire safety and leadership.

Katie Bower, program planner for the Junior Fire Academy this year, first joined the Varna Fire Department and later moved to the Dryden Fire Department as a bunker as she attended Cornell University. She said the academy gives kids valuable experience in team building and safety.

“From being in the camp, they get to learn how to work as a team which I think is really critical,” Bower said. “They also get to learn about fire safety, how to listen, how to be respectful, and I think it’s most important, they just get comfortable with first responders.”

Dryden Deputy Chief Mark Bell shows kids a hose connector Wednesday during the Junior Fire Academy. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Rain dampened outdoor activities in the morning Wednesday, so instead the kids got a look at tools used by firefighters and were sent out in groups to go find certain ones on the truck. The kids were able to identify what a halligen bar was, used for forcible entry, a hose connector and spanner wrench, as Deputy Chief Mark Bell passed around the tools.

The academy started about 11 years ago and is run by Bell and volunteers. It’s held at the station on 26 North St. in Dryden. The purpose is to introduce kids to fire safety, get them familiar with firefighters and what they do, and hopefully spark some interest in young people to join the fire service.

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The academy lasts one week and is offered to two age groups, ages six to 12 and 12 to 16, when there are enough participants. This year, there were only enough kids to fill the younger group.

So far this week, the kids have had the chance to see what equipment is stored on the trucks, try on gear and do gear races, learn how to search a room for a victim, and learn how to properly use a fire extinguisher. On Tuesday, they also got to see inside the ambulances and learn CPR and basic first aid.

“They’re too young to get a CPR card, but at least in case of an emergency, they know what to do and there are many cases across the country where a kid has done CPR and it has been successful,” Bower said.

Josh Dobush, right, shows kids where to find tools on the fire truck during the Junior Fire Academy. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Thursday at camp will be dedicated to law enforcement since firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officials all work closely at incidents in the county.

“We want to exhibit to the kids how we all come together and work on a large scene,” Bower said.

The camp will wrap up Friday with search and rescue techniques and they will perform a skit for parents about what they learned over the week before graduating.

The department is able to keep costs low for participants thanks to help from volunteers, food donated by Shurfine and a grant from the town.

Bower said the Dryden Fire Department is a very family and community-oriented department. In addition to the Junior Fire Academy, they go to the high school every week and do an after-school program. After homecoming week, they host a bonfire. The recently repainted trucks also feature some Dryden pride with the purple lion mascot.

Like many local fire stations, volunteers are desperately needed. Over the years, the Junior Fire Academy has inspired some young participants to join the department.

The academy drew in Josh Dobush, 16, who is a junior member of the department. No one in his family was a firefighter, but he was interested in fire service, so when he was 12 and learned about the JFA, he joined and “fell in love with it.”

As a junior member, Dobush can go on calls but can’t go into burning buildings. He can still help outside and attend truck checks, meetings and other work details. When he’s 18, he can be a full member. He is entering his senior year of high school, but said he is able to balance his schoolwork with volunteering.

“I would definitely recommend the Junior Fire Academy, it is a great experience. You meet a lot of new people, make a lot of new friends, and it really is just fun,” Dobush said.

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Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.