By Mike Baker, Director of VFIS Risk Control
Encouraging youth to participate in junior
member programs is an excellent way to boost
interest in emergency service organizations.
Early participation is a great recruiting
method, which often leads junior members to
continue service with the agency as an adult.
However, these programs present a unique set
of circumstances because the participants are
minors. Does your organization really know
the leaders of your Junior Member Program?
What steps have been taken to prevent the
potential for allegations against those
members involved in the program?
have developed where
adult advisors violated the
trust of their organization
and have caused injury or
harm to a minor
member(s). To help
protect the organization,
most importantly, the
program participants, it is
important to establish
written guidelines for
both adult leaders and participants, implement
safeguards for operational safety and comply with
child labor laws.
While developing a program, establish conduct
policies and procedures for both the adult
advisory personnel and junior members.
Consistent with department-wide guidelines,
develop harassment policies that are strictly
enforced and include clear definitions of what
constitutes harassment and prohibited activities.
As with all harassment policies, providing
education on how to report violations while
protecting confidentiality must be an ongoing
focus. It is also recommended that a provision for
informing the parent(s) and/or legal guardian of
any report involving their minor child becomes
part of this process.
While many organizations believe they know the
advisor(s) at the department, an inclusive criminal
background check with standards for findings
helps ensure a consistent approval/denial process
for those wishing to become advisors. Provide
guidance for advisors on the minimum and
maximum ratio of adults to juniors permitted
during activities. This may assist in minimizing
one-on-one contact between the participants and
adult leadership while also providing adequate
direction of the program. One-on-one supervision,
or even counseling of the minor, not only
increases the opportunity for improper actions but
also exposes the advisor to potential allegations of
inappropriate behavior from a troubled or
confused junior member. Where one-on-one
interactions must take place, ensure they are
completed in full view of others.
Junior membership programs offer a wide variety
of operational and non-operational activities for
participants, from fire prevention and safety
education to hands-on training camps and
fundraising events. Successful leadership includes
promoting safety first to ensure negative
occurrences do not impact the department and
members. The National Volunteer Fire Council
(NVFC) advocates junior members not participate
in operational/emergency response activities, but
encourages classroom-based learning for most
participants1. Depending on the age and ability of
the participant, some programs may offer
simulated, hands-on training in a non-emergency
situation. Regardless, supervise activities with
safety as the top priority.
Some additional requirements to consider for the program
may include set hours of participation, attendance
requirements, and minimal scholastic standards. It is
important to obtain written permission from the parent(s) or
legal guardian for participants under 18 years of age. The
permission agreement is designed to outline the expectations
of the program and contain a signed waiver of liability that
can assist in protecting organizations should someone be
injured. At the same time, encouraging parents to become
involved with training and functions for the youth may
generate additional interest for them to become active
members in some capacity.
The ages of participation for the program are up to each
department. Take into consideration state and local
regulations. The United States Department of Labor provides
direction to each state’s laws relating to employment
including minors2. Many state fire associations also have
information to assist in determining which laws apply to
volunteers of a junior firefighter program.
Most importantly, treat the junior membership like those on
an active member roster. If they gain a sense of belonging
and worth to the department’s operations, combined with an
appreciation of the leadership, it is more likely they will
remain involved with the department for a long time.
Find additional junior member program guidelines here.
1 National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Junior Firefighter Program Handbook.
2 United States Department of Labor – Age Requirements