Junior firefighters gain skills and a sense of belonging

Staff Writer

FREEHOLD — Five young men have made a commitment to learn firefighting skills through Freehold Borough’s junior firefighter program.

Matthew Rossi, Jared Capolupo, Michael Soto, Tanner Maine and Joseph Lubrano were appointed to the Freehold Fire Department’s junior firefighter program during a recent Borough Council meeting.

“We accept members from age 15 to 18. Training never stops,” said Len Maxfield, a Freehold Borough firefighter who leads the program. Maxfield has been a member of the fire department since 1993 and was a South Amboy firefighter beginning in 1980.

Junior firefighters go through a training period from ages 15 to 16 and then they are able to “ride the engine for limited alarm calls,” Maxfield said.

“We teach most of the skills new members will get in the Firefighter One program at the Monmouth County Fire Academy — knots and ropes, ladders, search and rescue, air pack drills, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid, basic hazardous materials, blood borne pathogens, team work and safety,” he said.

The program “is not a playground; it is an education of the firefighter program,” Maxfield said.

In addition to obtaining firefighting skills, the junior firefighters also learn discipline, he said.

The program accepts a maximum of 20 students and currently has 16 young men, according to Maxfield.

No fees are required to become a junior firefighter. Applications are available at the firehouse, 49 W. Main St., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the program is open to residents of Freehold Borough and the surrounding area.

Junior firefighters from throughout the county meet monthly at the county fire academy in Howell.

“About 50 to 60 participants attend the meeting,” Maxfield said.

The program emphasizes “family, school and fire department in that order of importance,” he said, adding that in order to remain in the program, members must not have any failing classes or school suspensions.

“My first (junior firefighter) graduate turned 18 and joined my fire company. It makes feel like a dad,” Maxfield said.

Most people find out about the program by word of mouth and there are many instances of sons following the path of their fathers.

Robbie Bailey is the proud father of a junior firefighter. His son joined the program when he turned 15 in January 2015.

“He watched me take an active role in the community and it instilled in him the desire to get involved,” Bailey said. “Junior firefighters have to know where all equipment is on every vehicle.”

Bailey said Maxfield does a “fantastic job” with the junior firefighters, giving them his time and dedication.