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Junior volunteer firefighters work in thousands of programs across the United States, serving the community and learning about job opportunities of firefighting, emergency operations and medical response teams. Junior firefighters mostly take an observational role, acquire community service skills and learn what it means to be a volunteer (see Reference 1). In Pennsylvania, teenagers serving in this capacity must follow a set of guidelines and rules.
Ages and Hours
Junior volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania must be at least 14 years of age, and everyone under the age of 18 must obtain working papers from their school district. If volunteering on a school day, junior firefighters ages 14 and 15 can work only four hours; any other day they can work eight hours with a maximum of 18 hours in a Monday through Friday period, with an additional eight hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Junior firefighters may work only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and volunteer work cannot interfere with regular school attendance. During school vacation time, work hours also vary and a firehouse supervisor may increase work hours within reason. Junior firefighters who are 17 and have already graduated from high school are considered 18 years of age, according to Pennsylvania state law.
Junior firefighters may partake in a number of activities around the firehouse and while responding to an emergency. They can participate in a number of different safety training activities as long as an adult is present and as long as the situation is not hazardous and does not contain hazardous materials. In safety training activities, they can extinguish live fires from the exterior with fire suppression equipment. They can also work in search and rescue situations. In a live fire situation, they may help in exterior fire operations outside the danger zone and only until the fire is under control by an adult in charge, but they may not enter a building. They can work in cleanup activities helping to roll hose, put tools away and clear up debris. When responding to a medical call, junior firefighters can work with paramedics and medical personnel but must be certified in first aid. They are not required to have first aid certification in other fire activities.
Junior firefighters may not operate hydraulic jacks, fire pumps at a scene, or ladders. They cannot use rubber electric gloves and insulated wire cutters. Driving a fire response vehicle (including an ambulance) is also not allowed, regardless of whether it is on or off duty. Junior firefighters may not operate boats, cranes, elevators (freight elevators) or excavating equipment, or participate in responses to incidents involving radioactive substances or hazardous materials. They may not work on roofs or with demolition equipment. They also may not operate pump systems that spray water at a live fire scene, even if they have training. Finally, a junior firefighter may not enter a burning building.
Fire companies that violate these rules can face fines as set forth by the Pennsylvania Child Labor Laws. For the first offense, violators might have to pay a fine of not less than $200 and not more than $400. For second offenses, fines can be not less than $750 and not exceeding $1,500 or 10 days of imprisonment. If a junior firefighter gets injured while on the job, fire companies are also responsible for workers’ compensation payouts.