Operation GEM stoking young cadets’ interest in future fire service

ROXANA – Someday several years from now, 12-year-old Brendan Stevens plans to be part of the fire service.

“Yes, I plan to join, probably Frankford. I live in Frankford,” said the Southern Delaware School of the Arts seventh grader.

Ditto for 11-year-old Konnor Hudson, who also attends SDSA.  “I want to be a firefighter; that is my plan,” he said. “I want to be a volunteer.”

On Saturday, Nov. 18, they were part of Operation GEM’s youth movement, teaming with a couple dozen other cadets as servers and well-mannered hosts for a spaghetti dinner/silent auction fundraiser at Roxana Volunteer Fire Company Station 90.

“They did everything … except cook,” said Roxana Fire Chief Chris Uibel. “The event was awesome. We surpassed our goal.”

Just over a year ago, Roxana Volunteer Fire Company in partnership with the Indian River School District last fall launched Operation GEM, a multi-step pilot program with a youthful recruiting push aimed at raising awareness and interest in the volunteer fire service.

The initial year of Operation GEM (Gain Effective Members) included a cadet program at Millsboro Middle School. During the enrichment WIN (What I Need) period students in the cadet program learned basic first-aid skills, kitchen safety, methods of fire safety and leadership skills.

Last November, Roxana VFC launched a similar-style cadet recruitment program, featuring first-Sunday-of-the-month meetings at Station 90 in Zion Church Road.

Presently, 29 cadets are in the program.

“It’s fun. You learn how to do communication skills and you learn to work with other people,” said 14-year-old cadet Morgan Freund, an eighth grader at Selbyville Middle School.

She has been in the cadet program since it started. Her father, Eric Freund is a volunteer fireman.

Brendan said he joined because he “wanted to learn, and I just thought it would be a lot of fun. It has helped me in school. It makes me want to get better grades, so I can be the program. You have to be above a “C” to be in the program.”

Thus far, Brendan and other cadets have learned CPR, how to starve a fire by cutting off the oxygen source, and how to use fire extinguishers among other safety measures

Hannah Gray, a high school senior at Sussex Tech, has a mentoring role in Operation GEM.

“Last year I came and watched. This year I am a mentor,” she said.

Hannah’s family has fire service roots.

“My dad and a couple of my uncles here, and uncles at my fire house in Dagsboro,” said Hannah. “I am actually a junior member at Dagsboro. So, when I am 18 I can become a full active member. But I plan on becoming an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).”

The idea of Operation GEM is to spark fire service interest in youth ages 10-14 through education, mentoring, hands-on instruction and participation in community-oriented events. Then, cadets of required age can become junior members with their home fire company.

“The volunteer service; we’re hurting for help. Definitely the young kids, like my cousins here they are always looking up when we get a call. They always ask, ‘What is it? How did you go about the call?’” said Hannah. “They are getting more serious and they definitely want to be more active.”

Konnor joined the program about four months ago.

“At the beginning of the school year, like a month into the school year, they came for Fire Prevention Week and me and all of the other cadets at SDSA got to go down and help out,” he said. “People would ask about it. Yes, there is interest in it.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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