By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – When it comes to telling what it’s really like to work in a fire department, TV is not doing viewers or the firefighting profession any favors, said Christopher Steckel with Fire and Emergency Services here.

“What they see on TV or other programming doesn’t always indicate the day-in and day-out activities of what firefighters have to go through,” said the Fort Lee assistant fire chief and fire protection specialist.

What has been a longstanding image problem also has become the impetus for the second week of the Fort Lee Youth Leadership Program – an effort to teach the participants what they don’t know about firefighting, said Steckel.

“We bring them into the station and we immerse them,” he said Monday, the first day of camp. “We put them in gear, let them handle the equipment, allow them to get on the truck, handle the hoses and perform technical rescue training – all the things we have to do on a day-to-day basis. And if we point someone to a career in firefighting, so much the better.”

The American Red Cross and Army Community Service jointly sponsors the youth camp, which is in its fifth year at Fort Lee. Participants in the program – 13-17-year-olds – may elect to attend either the first, second or both weeks, said Susan Loden, Army Volunteer Corps coordinator, ACS.

“The first week is different every year,” she said. “We do two things each day. We have a morning and afternoon session. This year, we had one session with CID where they did CSI fingerprinting and shoeprinting and blood spatter analysis.”

Another session taught them a few history lessons at the adjacent Petersburg National Battlefield Park where they learned how to load a canon, said Loden.

The weeklong session at FES is more concentrated, covering fire operations, equipment and procedures used by emergency personnel. It also is more hands-on, an attractive feature from a teen perspective, said Loden.

“It’s something a lot of kids are interested in,” she said, “something a lot of them are into when they’re young – police department, fire department, ‘I want to get my hands on it, I want to get dirty, I want to be a super hero’ — and some of the guys and gals at the fire department are the super heroes they see in their neighborhood.”

There was plenty to keep the teens engaged on Monday at Fire Station No. 2 adjacent to the main exchange. Among numerous activities they participated in, they sprayed water from firehoses and were elevated into the air via a fire engine ladder. All of this was quite the experience for Dylan White, who said he would not be doing much of anything at home.

“I think it’s good to just get out of the house sometimes and just hang out with other people you don’t know,” he said.

That’s not to say there is an interest in firefighting as a profession, he said. He just enjoys the social interaction the camp presents. “I get the opportunity to hang out with these great people and learn what they do,” he said.

Tiara Blevins, who has previously volunteered for the Red Cross, had no real interest in firefighting prior to the camp.

“I do now,” she said after her turn on the firehoses. “It seems pretty interesting.”

Among the other activities scheduled for the camp include hands-on lessons in hazardous materials, technical rescue equipment, search and rescue and fire extinguisher use. They also received training in CPR and first aid. The camp concludes Friday with a final exercise that will allow the participants to demonstrate everything they have learned.