Walking across the stage Friday at Riverview Middle School, 27 young cadets became the inaugural graduating class of the Dawson County Junior Firefighter Academy.
Designed for middle school students, the academy gives participants a hands-on look at the profession, from first aid and CPR training to basic fire-fighting skills and 911 communications.
Staying true to demonstrating real life experiences emergency professionals face each day, 911 operators dispatched cadets to each exercise during the weeklong camp.
Dawson County Emergency Services Assistant Chief Robbie Hughey, who commanded the camp, said that detail let students know that emergency personnel “have to answer to a higher call.”
“We have to rise above in emergency situations when other people may not know what to do with chaos,” Hughey said. “Hopefully, we taught them just a little bit of how to deal with that chaos.”
The academy also helps build interest in community service at a young age.
Director of Emergency Services Billy Thurmond said it is never too early to begin recruiting the next generation of public safety personnel.
“Hopefully, some of them through the education and the fun they had this week, when they turn 18 and graduate from high school, this will be the career they will look toward,” Thurmond said.
“It’s a very rewarding career. I’ve been doing this for 31 years. I’ve enjoyed it. I think they would as well.”
While the cadets were smiling at graduation, the camp was not all fun and games.
“They did this in the heat and humidity, under difficult conditions,” Hughey said. “We wanted them to understand this is the life we live when we are in the fire and emergency service.”
Several cadets said they plan to attend the academy again next year.
“This was so much fun,” said Melanie Cox, a rising eighth-grader at Riverview.
Dawson County Middle School seventh-grader David Goswick said he couldn’t wait for next summer’s academy.
Hughey noted the student’s enthusiasm.
“David asked so many questions, so many good questions,” he said. “He has a sincere interest in this profession.”
Officials expect to see an increase in the number of cadets signing up next summer.
“You are going to see this program grow from 27 kids to 100 plus once the kids go back to school and tell their friends how much fun they had,” said County Manager Kevin Tanner.