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Teens Train To Become Next Generation Of Volunteer Firefighters At Long Island's Camp Fahrenheit 516

OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Instead of wearing shorts and swimsuits, teens are in heavy fire protection gear at a special summer camp on Long Island this week.

They're learning what it takes to become volunteer firefighters amid a national firefighter shortage, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Thursday.

Camp Fahrenheit 516 is named for the blazing heat campers encounter while training as the next generation of volunteer firefighters.

"There's not switch to turn off in here. They're going into this building, what they come across burning is what, they're gonna go on a call one day when they're in their departments, and they go into a residence or a commercial building," said Jerry Presta, chairman of the Nassau County Junior Firefighter Association.

At the nation's only junior firefighting training camp with hands-on experience like this, 28 Long Islanders ages 14 to 17 learn if they have the right stuff to serve their communities.

Many already know they do.

"I have family throughout the FDNY. So it was in my blood to do it, and I just want to save lives. I want to help people," said Isaiah Defreitas from Valley Stream.

"I've always looked up to what they do. They get to go out and save lives everyday," said Melissa Brohm from West Hempstead.

"I have a lot of family in the fire department and growing up around it, I've always wanted to do something like it," said Melissa O'Connor, 16. "I admire my father and what he does in the fire department and I want to follow in his footsteps."

Ninety-five percent will go on to fill the dwindling ranks at fire houses at a critical time.

"Recruitment is a real challenge. Young people are busy. There's lots of things taking them in other directions, but we rely on the volunteer fire service and we need to keep recruiting," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. "This is a wonderful tool to get more people involved."

Volunteer firefighter numbers are falling across the country. There used to be 125,000 in New York. Now there are 80,000 as the population and needs are growing.

"I think we've seen a drop-off in a lot of things lately and people volunteering their time isn't always the way people go right now. But we really have a strong campaign going," said Nassau County Legislator Rose Walker.

"There are difficulties for people to join... some people work two jobs," said Eugene Perry from the Fireman's Association of the State of New York.

14-year-old AJ Pollack from Garden City has a long line of relatives in the fire service. It seems bravery runs in the family.

"I was scared of heights. I got over that yesterday, was able to climb up the ladder," said AJ. "Today I'm a little nervous, first time going in. But otherwise I'm putting it behind me and just gonna focus on getting the job done."

Once training is complete, campers as young as 17 can get to work.

Incentives for volunteer firefighters include health benefits and tuition assistance. The hope is to light a spark that encourages them to volunteer for years.

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