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Guidelines and Best Practices in Youth Fire Service Program Now Available

February 1, 2010

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issue of On Scene

IAFC On Scene: February 1, 2010

The IAFC Volunteer & Combination Officers Section’s Silver Ribbon Report, Opening New Doors: Guidelines and Best Practices for a Successful Youth Fire Service Program (PDF), is now available for download. The fifth in the series of Ribbon Reports, Opening New Doors is a comprehensive best-practices document on mentoring youth in the fire and emergency service.

“This document is the first to cover the topic of youth programs so definitively. Not only is it timely, but it is long overdue,” said Chief Jeff Johnson, IAFC president and chairman of the board.

Opening New Doors balances nonprescriptive model practices and recommended guidelines with a core emphasis on the need to understand and adhere to current local and state laws—which vary widely—as well as with federal regulations.

“Most departments are eager to engage young people who want to be of service, but we recognized there was no national-level guidance on how to effectively form and operate a youth program,” said Chief Tim Wall, VCOS chair. “Our goal was to take a proactive approach in order to reduce the risk of litigation, serious injuries and even death, which can be a reality when youth are engaged without a structured program in place.”

In reviewing a number of existing programs and interviewing various experts from across the United States, department types and areas of expertise, VCOS was able to create a valuable addition to every fire department’s library. The report provides guidance on:

  • Administration 
  • Legal issues
  • Recruitment, retention and marketing
  • Safety
  • Education and training
  • Sample documents
  • Recommended best practices

This document is a must for those who have ever considered a youth program or for those who may be working with youth with no program in place. Opening New Doors helps fire departments avoid potential pitfalls and provides a step-by-step guide for the right way to initiate your program. For those with a program already in place, the document offers an opportunity to review the national-level guidance to ensure all critical elements are covered. 

“Any fire department will have young people who hang around the station,” continued Wall. “These young people should be encouraged to learn and contribute to their community, but there needs to be a system in place to ensure both the youth and the firefighters they are working with are physically safe, engage in appropriate activities and behavior and understand that there are accountabilities.

Opening New Doors is the first in the series of Ribbon Reports whose application is not limited to volunteer and combination departments. 

“All fire and emergency service leaders want to find young people who are drawn to public and community service and provide them with an experience that is rewarding, educational and fun in a safe environment,” said Chief Jeff Johnson, IAFC president. “If we can do this, we can hope that the door will stay open and they will walk through it into a volunteer membership or a career in the fire/EMS service when they are of age.”

This is also the first report from the Ribbon Report series to have an extended targeted distribution beyond fire-department leadership. The document was distributed to more than 1,700 Fire Explorer programs, every state fire academy and every state fire-chiefs association.