Last Monday marked a special milestone for the Brookings Fire Department and especially for Junior Firefighter Cole LaFazio the word junior was dropped from his title.

Cole, who recently turned 18, is the first person to become a full-fledged volunteer fireman through the departments junior firefighting program.

It is with great pride that we welcome Cole into the ranks of volunteer firefighter, Fire Chief Bill Sharp said at Mondays weekly training meeting.

With that, Fire Capt. Dennis Ward removed the Junior Fire Fighter officers shield from Coles uniform and Sharp replaced it with the Volunteer Fire Fighter officers shield.

Cole, Im very happy to see you join the rank of volunteer after all of the years you have been a member of the program, Sharp said. but Im sad that we are going to lose you so soon when you graduate from high school. Your absence will be missed.

Cole, a senior at Brookings-Harbor High School, will begin military service after he graduates in May.

The Brookings Fire Department hasnt always had a junior firefighter program. Sharp said there was a program years before he became chief, but it folded. He wasnt sure why.

In 1996, however, a young man from Los Angeles, John Rogers, visited the firehouse and asked Sharp if his department had a junior firefighter program like the one he had been a member of in Los Angeles.

Sharp said he agreed to do the paperwork to start such a program if Rogers was serious about doing it.

That year, Rogers was the only junior firefighter in Brookings. Several more joined the ranks in the following years.

It wasnt until April 1998 that Cole, urged by his father, Gary, a volunteer firefighter, joined the program.

To become a junior firefighter, one must be between the ages of 14 and 18, have a desire to learn firefighter skills and apply those skills in real life situations, Sharp said.

Cole meet that criteria, and then some, Sharp said. Cole is a fast learner and knows how to safely and expertly apply what he learns.

Sharp added, He and I hit a few rough spots because he had a tendency to ask questions, a lot of questions at inappropriate times, but I soon solved that problem.

Now if I can just get him to not talk so much, hell be perfect almost.

Cole entered the junior firefighter program at 14.

He liked what he was doing so much that he convinced two of his best friends, Chuck Barnes and Wes Appleton, to join the program.

These three young men are priceless, Sharp said. They exemplify the very best of everything this program is about.

The junior firefighters do everything that regular firefighters do, except enter burning structures, which they are prohibited from doing by law.

Otherwise, they are treated the same as adult firefighters and are expected to perform in the same way as the adults.

These young people are truly an asset to the department, the city and county, Sharp said.

I can only hope more of our young adults who read about Cole and the others get fired up and seek to join the program.

Cole said, The training has been mostly on-the-job training. All six of the current junior firefighters respond to calls with the adults.

We do everything the regular firefighters do, except, of course enter burning structures, but we get to do everything else and its a rush.

He added, We get suited up and then get in the back of the cab of whichever vehicle we are using. You just go with the ride, facing backward, with the sirens and lights going, it gives me the tingles.

Two of the many emergency calls Cole has responded to stand out in his memory.

The first was a large multiple fire at Curry Transfer and Recycling, he said. We were out there all night and I was able to use all of my different training basic fireman skills, wildland fire fighting and hazardous materials.

The second call, he said, was one he will always remember.

It dealt with a man who fell 10 feet from a cliff over the beach and broke his leg, he said. I had to use my EMT (Emergency Medical Training) on that call and that is just a small portion of the things I have learned over the past three years.

Cole said he was going to miss being a part of the fire department and his fellow firefighters, especially Sharp.

They have all taught me things that not only will be with me the rest of my life, but that I will be able to put to use every day, he said.

That will be especially true in August, when I go to Fort Knox for my Army basic training with the First Cavalry Force Reconnaissance Scouts.