5 junior firefighters answer the call

Sophomore Ryan Bischoff (left) and sophomore Brayden Klingensmith are junior firefighters at Station 104.

Evelyn Esek, Staff Writer

Sophomore Ryan Bischoff always knew he wanted to be a firefighter. After all, it is in his blood: His grandfather, father, and brother all have been firefighters.

“I became a firefighter because it’s always something I wanted to do. My dad was one and I have been around it since I was young, and I have always wanted to do it because of that,” Bischoff said.
He is one of five Baldwin High School students who are serving as junior firefighters with their local fire departments.
Bischoff was sworn in as a junior firefighter in April 2021 at South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company (Station 104) and was later joined by sophomore Brayden Klingensmith, who started in July 2021.
“It has always been something that I have wanted to do since I was young,” Klingensmith said. “Once I found out about the junior program, I read into it and began following the steps to becoming a firefighter.”
South Baldwin is not the only fire station with a junior firefighter program. Junior Kelsea Los and sophomore Owen Klodowski are junior firefighters at Baldwin Independent Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 (Station 105 in North Baldwin).

Los plans on becoming a first responder, and she knew that the program would give her experience in the firefighting field.

“I was curious about firefighters, so I thought I’d join and see,” Los said.

I became a junior firefighter because I found a way I can help people now, during high school. ”

— Evan Wigfall

Klodowski was inspired by an uncle to join the fire department, and he enjoys helping others and challenging himself.

“I saw the chance to further my education in public safety and gain some real-life experience, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Klodowski said.

Los plans to further her education to become an EMT firefighter, while Klodowski plans to be a firefighter for the city of Pittsburgh and possibly a paramedic.

Both Los and Klodowski attend Steel Center in the public safety career and technical program, and gain experience with EMT, firefighter, and police training that includes first aid, medical triage, disease and injury diagnosis, and technical and vehicle rescue.

Klodowski and Los both agree that the positive environment inside their station helps them succeed.

“Joining my station was like joining a family,” Los said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Pleasant Hills Volunteer Fire Company (Station 232) also offers a junior firefighter program, which is where freshman Evan Wigfall currently volunteers. Wigfall plans to go into the military after high school, noting that the junior firefighter program will help him gain experience while helping the community.

“I became a junior firefighter because I found a way I can help people now, during high school,” Wigfall said.

Wigfall encourages others to get involved in the community in any way possible, especially through the firefighter programs at local stations.

“This is a really good way to start out, just by getting info and training,” Wigfall said.

Junior firefighters have to attend trainings to get their certifications, and each round of training is called a mod, short for module. Klingensmith and Bischoff have completed through mod 3, which is the highest regular mod available before junior firefighters reach age 18. Los, Klodowski, and Wigfall are looking forward to starting their mod training.

There are other specialty mods which, while not required, can be completed, like hazmat training and vehicle rescue.

Until firefighters turn 18, they are unable to enter a building to help put out a fire. They instead help by assisting the active duty firefighters, gathering tools and equipment, exterior fire attack, general clean-up after calls, and directing traffic.

Junior firefighters are allowed to attend fire calls, if they are available, unless it is called during school hours or late at night. At some stations like South Baldwin, they are only allowed on the first truck to leave the station if there are not enough active duty firefighters to staff the truck. Otherwise, they have to board the second truck to attend the call.

Each station serving the Baldwin-Whitehall area currently has a junior firefighting program, and each station has different age requirements for their junior firefighters. For South Baldwin and Option, the age requirement is 15, and for North Baldwin, Pleasant Hills, and Whitehall it is 16.

Junior firefighters are allowed to attend fire calls, if they are available, unless it is called during school hours or late at night.”

“Helping someone in a bad day when we can make that impact to change their life is very rewarding and satisfying,” South Baldwin Assistant Chief David Connell said.

Connell is a product of the junior firefighter program at South Baldwin. Although he lived in Bethel Park at the time, there were no junior firefighter programs at Bethel’s local stations, so he chose to volunteer at South Baldwin. Connell now lives in Baldwin and actively answers fire calls in addition to his regular job as a nurse practitioner.

The fire departments also support the junior firefighters in terms of time management and schoolwork, with the thinking being that as high school students, the junior firefighters’ biggest commitment is to school.

“While we love that they are here and that they are helping the community as a support to the fire department, school, at the end of the day, is the most important thing,” Connell said.

Some fire departments also require the junior firefighters to provide their quarterly or semester report cards to make sure that the students are still focusing on schoolwork in addition to being a junior firefighter.

Connell and the junior firefighters also enjoy being able to reach out into the community and connect with younger kids, like at community celebrations, parades, and school events.

“The young kids … seeing that happiness, the excitement that they get from a fire truck is certainly awesome,” Connell said.

Connell encourages anyone who might be interested in becoming a member to reach out to their local fire department through their website, social media sites, or over the phone to request more information. There are lots of opportunities to help in addition to being an active firefighter.

“There is a job for everyone,” he said.

All of the junior firefighters agree that the most important part of their role is being able to be of assistance in times of need.

“The most rewarding part is being able to help other people,” Bischoff said.