A group of teenagers is making a definitive impact on the Brookings Fire Department and have become an asset to the community.

According to Chief Bill Sharp, the seven young men currently participating in the departments Junior Firefighter program not only are accepted by their adult counterparts, but have an influence on the older firefighters.

Their enthusiasm is contagious, he said. Ive used that enthusiasm to motivate the other firefighters.

He added, They show commitment and responsibility. Theyre adults as far as Im concerned.

Three of the junior firefighters will be seniors at Brookings-Harbor High School this fall. All have been involved in the program for several years.

Wes Appleton, Cole LaFazio and Chuck Barnes, all 17 years old, are special young men, Sharp said.

Wes, Cole and Chuck have made the program what it is today, Sharp said. Theyve worked their butts off.

Sometimes their efforts have overshadowed the other firefighters.

Sharp said the three seniors have removed any fears about having to baby sit the younger firefighters, and act older than their ages.

My concern from day one with this program was that we might have to baby sit these younger men, that has never been a problem.

Their adult attitude is also an asset to the younger junior firefighters, Sharp said.

They are mature beyond their years, he said. Through their effort they have set a standard for the department. The young ones have big shoes to fill.

Appleton, who joined in January of 1999, said he enjoys being able to help the community. He plans to remain active with the department after graduating next spring.

I dont like to quit things I start, he said. Ive done everything I need to be certified when I turn 18.

LaFazio, who will turn 18Sept. 18 and will be certified then, sees his involvement as a building block for the future.

Its fun riding the trucks, going on fire calls, working the fires, he said. Its a good thing for my resume, a good experience for my future.

I plan on joining the Army and taking EMT training, but I want to keep working for fire departments wherever I am at the future.

Barnes was drawn to the Junior Firefighter program because his friends were involved. Since then, he has grown to enjoy what he does for the department.

Its cool, fun and Ive learned a lot, he said. I think I might make it a career, but it certainly has helped me prepare for my future.

I enjoy helping people out. I think Ill take classes at SWOCC to learn firefighting. I wouldnt mind working for the department in Redding (Calif.). Ive already visited there.

Jake Cartwright, a 14-year-old freshman, joined the program last October. He likes the opportunity it gives him to contribute.

I get to help the community, not just to be a follower, he said. I like being able to help out the civilians.

Maybe Ill make a career out of it. Ill always stay a volunteer while in Brookings, but maybe I will get a job as a paid firefighter some day.

Tony Barnes, Chucks 16-year-old brother and a sophomore, is following in his brothers footsteps. Hes been a member for just a few months.

I thought it would be interesting, he said. Its kind of exciting.

I dont know if Ill be making it a career, but I know Ill stay involved until I graduate.

According to Sharp there are two other new members of the Junior Firefighters: freshmen Patrick Garton, 14, and Andrew Parsons, 14.

Sharp said there have been 10 members of the program since it began in early 1997.

The Boy Scouts Explorers program was its predecessor, but was disbanded in 1988 because a lack of leadership, he said.

Sharp added there were also too many youngsters involved in the Explorers version of the program, making it unmanageable at times.

Sharp instituted the new program when he was approached by officers from the Brookings Police Department, who introduced him to a young man who had moved to the community from Los Angeles, where he had been in another junior firefighter program. His name was John Rogers.

He was the first in the program, Sharp said. I took him on as a project.

He needed some encouragement and leadership.

From the beginning Sharp was determined to not repeat the mistakes that had occurred with the Explorers program.

We decided to do it differently, he said. First, we made it a direct part of the department in every possible way. The only thing our junior firefighters cant do is go into a burning structure.

They train with us and are equipped the same way.

Sharp said the Oregon Department of Public Safety, Standards and Training doesnt certify firefighters until theyre 18, but the department trains the juniors the same way.

We give them the opportunity to take the training set by state guidelines, just like the older firefighters, he said. But we issue them a certificate of completion and keep it in their files.

To date, Appleton, LaFazio and Chuck Barnes have received the Brookings Fire Department certificate, along with Rogers. When the three seniors turn 18, Sharp will submit the paperwork to the state for the young firefighters to be recognized, along with an application for certification.

The chief said all three have already met all the requirements for certification, and the process will take about two weeks.

Like all new certified members of the department, the juniors will then be presented and recognized before the Brookings City Council.

Parents play an important role in the program, Sharp said.

Parents have been informed and involved from day one, he said. Parents have to maintain a role in the program and we make every effort to maintain contact with the parents.

We want to be responsible to the parents because they have to make an effort too.

Sharp said the department also works closely with the schools so they know what the junior firefighters are doing. He said to stay in the program, the juniors need to maintain a C average, and need to know that school is more important.

Sharp said the department is constantly looking for ways to get the juniors recognition for their efforts.

We want to let them know how much they are appreciated for what the do, he said. They dont always get the same recognition of those who are certified.

We try to do things to make them know they are important to the department and the community.

Sharp said the junior firefighters more than make the department proud.

We, as a department, have a standard we strive for: work hard as representatives of the city, he said. Our juniors have maintained that standard, even on personal time. They are very professional.

They have not caused me or the city or the department any problems, period. It speaks loudly of their integrity and the integrity of their families.