Jr. Firefighters Program Brings Kids Together

Photos by Leonard COUTIN
Photos by Leonard COUTIN

By Brandon HENSLEY

When are they going to spray the hose?

Four elementary school kids huddled around a bench at Verdugo Park last Friday afternoon, asking that question. They looked around and saw members of the Glendale Fire Department, surrounded by screaming children, each one hoping their raffle number would be called so they could pick a prize of their choice.

To be sure, Delaney Brancheau, Helen Schaefer, Aedan Molina and Jared Tracey wanted their numbers to be called as well – who wouldn’t want a new bike or tickets to Disneyland? – but their optimism for enjoying a symbol of summer fun was fading. In that moment they were a perfect snapshot of American youth: four best friends who could have been sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn or hanging out at a carnival in the Deep South, but they were here in Glendale. The day was almost over, and they wanted to get wet.

“Maybe they’re not going to spray the hose after all,” one of them said toward the end of what had been an otherwise enjoyable day.

Of course it had been fun, for they were one of the select few from St. James Elementary to join other fifth-graders from around the district for the annual Jr. Firefighters program.

The event, held by the Glendale Fire Dept., gathered students who were deemed worthy of participating in contests and giveaways based on how well their essays and test scores on fire safety were earlier this year, after firefighters had come into classrooms for presentations.
Photos by Leonard COUTIN
“We teach them exit drills in the home,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “We teach them how to recognize the firefighters, things that they should watch out for with electrical safety, working around hot water when mom is in the kitchen … things that we take for granted, but kids don’t really take for granted.”

The St. James students had their invitation in the bag the whole time. That 45-question, true or false test? No sweat.

“For me, not that much,” said Jared on the test’s difficulty. “It wasn’t that hard, but I think for other people it was.”

If Jared relied on his outright smarts, Aedan pulled flattery from his bag of tricks. He set aside a section of his essay praising the job of firefighters.

“I put in the essay that firefighters look like Darth Vader but don’t act bad. They act as good people,” he said.

But Aedan was wearing a T-shirt with the Batman logo, and he came around to agreeing firefighters more resemble The Dark Knight.

“Batman doesn’t have superpowers, he just saves lives with his equipment, so I guess he’s pretty much like firefighters,” he said.

Meanwhile, Delaney and Helen (“We’re best friends!” was Delaney’s refrain for the afternoon) said they enjoyed talking with the firefighters because they were funny and nice. They helped each other remember an amusing false-alarm story the firemen shared in class.

“It was a barbecue,” said Delaney.

“Oh yeah,” said Helen. “One time they got a call from someone. Their next-door neighbors were having a barbecue and they saw smoke and they called 911 on them.”

Then the conversation turned toward next year. As young and together as these friends are, middle school – they will attend Holy Redeemer in the fall – is a period of transition, where world views come that much more into focus.

“Middle school seems hard,” said Delaney, “because you have to go to different classes for different subjects.”

Don’t forget about the horrors of the added workload.

“I’m scared for homework.” Jared said.

But they are excited as well. Aedan said he remembered in fourth grade when Ms. Garcia worked them hard because she wanted to prepare them for fifth grade, and they got through that. Delaney and Helen are both straight-A students.

Then they talked of their future plans. Helen wants to be a pediatrician and attend either Stanford or UCLA. Delaney has liked cooking since she was 2, but now she’s not so sure about that.

Aedan, no surprise considering his Batman T-shirt, said he might try law enforcement. Maybe he’d like the K-9 Unit because, “It’s animals and fighting. Well, not fighting, but you know, defending.”

Jared got heavy, and said he might be interested in the army. He and Aedan conversed (“Or the Bomb Squad!” “Oh yeah, the Bomb Squad!”).

They might break up soon enough. The boys will go to St. Francis for high school, and the girls to Sacred Heart. For now, though, they are together, and what will happen has not been decided.

“I might change my mind. I have a lot of years,” said Aedan, in a moment of clarity.

The program ended, and in the open grass area sat a red fire engine. All of the students ran toward it as water shot up high in the air, and everyone ran around and screamed in joy. The four best friends from St. James will have to wait  for many things in life, but for one day in June they didn’t have to wait for the hose anymore.