Holy Smokes: A Look In The Life Of A Teen Firefighter


J. Jenkins

Jessie Jenkins is flanked by two volunteer firemen Nick Riffle (L) and Tyler Riffle (R).

Megan Moran , Staff Reporter

The alarm goes off… 17-year-old Jessica Jenkins shows up at the firehouse. She suits up and heads out to the scene, not knowing what she might face when she arrives. 

Jessica Jenkins, LCHS senior, is a part of the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD). Jenkins is just one of several high school students who volunteers at her local community fire department. 

Jenkins said she has been a volunteer for WVFD for almost four years now.  

“I always wanted to be a firefighter. Most of my family is,” Jenkins said about her motivation to become a volunteer firefighter. 

She explained that she grew up living near a fire department.  Another motivation for being a firefighter was that many of her family members were firefighters, and they are big role models to her. She looked up to her family members and wanted to be just like them.  

For Jenkins, a typical day at the firehouse is doing drills on Thursdays, practicing skills and going on calls.  

She said in order to be able to run on calls, firefighters must pass Firefighter I. This course has three tests.  

“You must make at least a 70 percent or higher on all three. Another quiz you will have to pass throughout the course is to go through a burning building,” Jenkins said.   

She noted this was her greatest accomplishment because of the difficulty and rigor of the tests. 

“Most fire departments in West Virginia are volunteer. You may get paid and if you do, it will be about $18,000 a year. Of course, the higher rank you are, the more pay you will make,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins said firefighters—volunteer and paid– must be brave and courageous. 

“You must be brave, have courage but not too much,” Jenkins said.  She explained that having an ego can put firefighters and citizens “in danger.” 

Jenkins is a junior rank firefighter. Because of her years of service and testing, she out-ranks many firefighters despite still being considered a junior firefighter.  

She said she is Firefighter I and II certified.  

She said volunteers must be passionate. 

“When it comes to your job, you need to be passionate about what you do because you never know when you will have to deal with a kid or parent. You don’t want to upset them,” Jenkins added. 

Prospective volunteers must show up on a business meeting night and complete an application. She noted that volunteers must be 16 years old and enroll in Firefighter I training.  Volunteers cannot be found guilty of any kind of felony. 

“In order to go on calls, you must pass your FIrefighter I class,” Jenkins said.  

She said when the department gets called out on scene, a lot of things happen. 

“When we get called out, we must get our gear on, and make sure we have the trucks we need.  We have to figure out who is riding in which truck and where we are going. Then we head to the scene,” Jenkins said.   

She said their work continues even after the call. 

“When we return to the firehouse from the scene, we must tell dispatch we have returned,” to prevent the volunteers from getting called out two places at one time. 

Jenkins said there are some negative aspects of being a firefighter.   

“Being a female firefighter is hard because (in some cases) you are not as strong. The guys will help you hold equipment and charged hose lines,” Jenkins said. She said a challenging part of being a firefighter is being small. 

Jenkins said they are all a family.  

She said the most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing everyone happy. 

Jenkins said all local fire departments are looking for volunteers.  This includes fire departments at Walkersville, Jane Lew, Weston, Pricetown, Jackson’s Mill and Midway. For more information, interested persons, should contact the fire department or contact the department via social media.