(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Veterans of the Morehouse Volunteer Fire Department had turnout gear older than Jerence Dial but when it came time to vote on his joining the department, he was in.
Dial, 18, of Morehouse, had looked forward to being part of the firefighting team for a long time. He remembers clearly when he decided he wanted to be a firefighter. "It was right after 9/11," he recalled.
Soon after, he began participating in the Morehouse Junior Firefighter program.
"I had signed up for that, joined that. I got to hang out in the fire department, ride on the trucks, go over the equipment," Dial said. "I just really took a liking to it. That was in the seventh grade and I'm still there today."
Dial probably won't be the last teen to be accepted into the department.
"In a couple years we'll have a couple more," predicted Chris Beavers, volunteer secretary and firefighter for the Morehouse Fire Department. "We have two that are 16 right now in our Junior Firefighters program and they are showing a lot of interest in the fire department so whenever they turn 18 we will vote on them and most likely they will be put on."
The Miner Volunteer Fire Department is also welcoming young enthusiasts such as Christopher Smith, 17.
"At 17 you can become a probationary member," said Randy Allen, Miner's fire chief. "As a probationary member you can't fight fires, but you can help with hoses, things like that."
Smith takes part in the department's regular training sessions, Allen said. "By the time he turns 18 he will probably be one of the best firefighters around here," he said.
In addition to the probationary member program, Allen said his department is working on adding the Boy Scout Explorer's Program for youths ages 14-20 interested in becoming firefighters. The Explorer's Program has worked well in other areas like Jackson, Kennett and Cape Girardeau in inspiring participants to follow through and eventually become regular firefighters after graduating from the program, according to Allen.
"It gives them a little bit of insight on the profession, a chance to learn the trade," he said. "I just wish more young people would take an interest in it. That's going to be our future - we should start training them now. One day firefighters like me are going to retire."
Feeding an early interest definitely worked with Dial.
"I think its probably one of the greatest jobs ever," he said. "You get to help people who are in need; you just feel great getting to do what you are doing."
Dial said he plans to pursue a degree in criminal justice at Southeast Missouri State University after graduating from high school and then apply to the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.
"I'd rather fight fire than be police, but if I have to do both I'm fine with that," Dial said.
Youngsters who think firefighting may be for them should "keep taking an interest in it," Dial said. "If they have the ability to join a Junior Firefighter program like I did, get in there and start learning the techniques and how to use all the instruments and tools."
"If anyone ages 12 or above wants to join the Junior Firefighters they are welcome to come to a meeting on the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. and turn in an application," Beavers said.