by Don Ratzlaff
The Free Press
The Hillsboro Fire Depart?????ment received a green ?light from the city council Sept. 15 to establish a cadet firefighter program for high school-age youth.
The program will enable youth who are at least 14 years old and interested in being a firefighter to train alongside department personnel. Partici?pants would be eligible to become full-fledged volunteers with the department when they reach age 18.
Guidelines developed by the department identify the goals of the program as developing situational awareness, cultivating useful skills and improving their decision-making processes.
Cadets would gain knowledge of fire science, the roles of a firefighter and the hazards associated with firefighting and how to safely deal with them. Cadets also would receive training in first aid and other lifesaving skills.
The application process, which is open to both girls and boys, would require parental consent, character references from two schoolteachers, the physical ability to perform duties and a willingness to follow orders.
A cadet would be required to maintain a C average or better in school.
Once approved for membership, cadets would be authorized to attend all regular training drills and specialty events and would be allowed to participate in station and vehicle maintenance as well as public education and fundraising activities.
City Administrator Larry Paine emphasized that cadets would not be allowed to participate in active firefighting, but would be allowed on site at some emergencies.
Fire Chief Ben Steketee said when cadets are on the scene of a fire, they will wear full bunker gear?also called ?turnouts??but will be restricted to the ?warm zone,? or command area, which is situated some distance away from the ?hot zone,? where actual firefighting occurs.
Paine said the program plan had been reviewed by the city?s insurance carriers. He said it raised no particular liability issues, but some workers? compensa?tion concerns did surface.
?Putting young people in an emergency environment on scene creates some issues,? Paine said. ?Since we?ve been leveraging a lot of the safety issues, along with full-time staff, I think this is something we need to take seriously.?
Paine said developing a cadet program is a good idea, but he suggested the fire department also develop protocols that would identify age-appropriate skills for the cadets, particularly since the eligibility age is 14 years.
All agreed that the priority concern is keeping cadets safe when they are on the scene of a fire, but opinions varied on the best way to accomplish that.
?In that warm zone, theoretically, we?re going to have to have a firefighter riding herd on those (cadets),? Paine said. ?Inadvertently, they could wander off to some place where they shouldn?t be that would put them at risk from a safety point.?
At the same time, assigning an active firefighter to supervise the cadets would result in one less person being available to fight the fire, he added.
?That?s not a job that Ben should be dealing with as site commander,? Paine said. ?His job is to direct everybody in terms of firefighting activity, and not where?s cadet so-and-so.?
Because cadets and firefighters would be wearing identical turnouts, council members suggested various strategies to make identification easier, ranging from wearing different-colored turnouts or helmets, to not wearing turnouts at all.
Steketee said cadets, like actual firefighters, are required to wear turnouts that are compliant with safety regulations when they are on site. To save expense, the cadets? turnouts would be previously used.
?Wearing turnouts is a large part of being a firefighter,? Steketee said. ?Plus, learning how to don the turnouts and use them on scene is part of the experience.?
Steketee said he did see merit in possibly adding an identifying crescent to the helmet of each cadet.
?I think a crescent on the helmet that says ?cadet,? and is a different color, would get your attention right away,? he said.
But Mayor Delores Dalke said providing different-colored gear for the cadets might be a safer strategy.
?I think using (used turnouts) is a great idea, otherwise it would be a lot of expense,? she said. ?But it?s got to be so that you immediately notice (the cadets), because you just want to make sure these people are safe.?
The council voted 3-0, with Councilor Shelby Dirks absent, to authorize the program and to develop age-related protocols as well.
Steketee and Paine will develop the protocols, but Paine recommended that the council review and ultimately approve them.
In other business, the council:
? while in session as the Public Building Commis?sion, approved a financial services agreement that outlines the services Piper Jaffray, the city?s financial advisor firm, will provide in the issuance of an estimated $1.5 million in bonds for the construction of a new hospital facility.
? approved the mayor?s appointment of Tom Kos?lowsky to the Salem Home Board.
? authorized the mayor and Councilor David Loewen to serve as voting delegates at the League of Kan?sas Municipalities gathering in October, and affirmed Paine and Council Bob Watson as alternates.
? met in executive session at the end of the meeting for attorney-client privilege.