OLD SAYBROOK - Going house to house with evacuation orders on Sunday. Conducting water rescues during the worst parts of Superstorm Sandy on Monday afternoon and evening. These were among the volunteer duties of the town's 59 volunteer firefighters during the 37 hours of the recent weather emergency. These individuals logged more than 1,400 hours of duty during this period.
What many residents may not know is the tale of eight junior firefighters who served alongside their adult counterparts as integral members of the duty teams.
And it almost didn't happen. That's because the Connecticut Department of Labor has very specific rules and restrictions for junior firefighters' service. By state rule, juniors can't climb a ladder taller than six feet, enter a hazardous environment, or respond to emergencies after 10 p.m. But during the storm, they wanted to serve.
So the town's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) contacted the state's EOC to ask if the rules about junior duty times would still apply if the town had declared a state of emergency. The state responded, after consulting with the state attorney, that the juniors could remain on duty overnight during the emergency as long as they had their parents' permission and they didn't have school the next day. So a junior firefighter was then integrated into each duty crew.
Fire Chief J.T. Dunn said the volunteer firefighter teams responded to 48 calls from Monday morning through 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
"A member of the junior firefighters responded to every call because they were integrated into every response crew," said Fire Chief J.T. Dunn.
What were the junior firefighters' duties during the storm emergency? Before the worst of the storm arrived, the team assisted with the evacuations of nearly 60 residents of the Apple Rehabilitation facility to the town shelter at the high school. The juniors also helped distribute the supplies and bedding to support those evacuated.
During the storm's worst hours, firefighter duty teams-including their junior members-responded to many emergency calls. Two of the junior firefighters-Robert Hanley and Kelsey Root-were on the crews that conducted water rescues of two elderly men, one in a flooded home on the Connecticut River and the other in a flooded home on Maple Avenue.
"Each of the junior firefighters performed admirably during the hurricane and without incident. They are dedicated, mature, and responsible members of today's youth," said Dunn.
Like the adult firefighter volunteers, the junior division members, advised by past fire chief Clark Maxson and Lieutenant John Gamble, attend firefighter training and department meetings each Tuesday evening from 7 to 9:30 p.m. For the junior firefighters, the experience is like being part of a large family while also helping the community. Most of them have family members who are volunteer firefighters, too.
Root said she got involved because "I knew someone who was involved [as a volunteer]. I tried it and I really like it. You get a real sense of camaraderie. It's like a family."
Root is already trained as an emergency medical responder and now wants to be an emergency medical technician (EMT). Root, Liam Duncan, Robert Hanley, and Daniel Skau spent last summer in EMT training in pursuit of that shared goal.
"My father's a fireman. It's nice to help the community [as a junior firefighter] and also do some fun stuff," said Duncan.