Cameron Lockridge became a firefighter with Starkville Fire Department at age 21.
After a few years of college, he decided firefighting was the career path for him. He joined SFD in January, and Lockridge said it was the best decision he’s ever made.
“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” Lockridge said. “I’ve learned a lot and over time I’ve grown as a man, mentally and physically. They’ve taught me so much.”
Young firefighters can positively impact the community, Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough said, and Starkville is finding new ways to bring young people into the department.
SFD is creating a youth program to teach teenagers about fire safety and give them an opportunity to learn what it’s like to be a firefighter. Yarbrough spoke at the board of aldermen work session Friday about establishing the program.
“This would be an opportunity to maybe get some firefighters from the community from high schools and try to keep them out of trouble,” Yarbrough said.
Meeting once a month, about 25 high school students ages 14-18 from Starkville would come to SFD and learn about firefighting and life skills, such as interviewing techniques and resume building. Yarbrough said the department is hoping to work with Mississippi State University Parking and Transit Services to give the participants some responsibilities such as assisting with parking during game days and events and working concession stands at the university.
The program will begin in August. Participants must receive parental consent. Yarbrough said they are recruiting participants through “word of mouth” and social media posts.
While many public service jobs require employees to be 21 years or older, firefighters only have to be 18 to join and go through training.
“You can pull them right out of high school,” Mayor Lynn Spruill said.
Yarbrough said this program will not only potentially bring in firefighters to the department, which is understaffed, but it would keep young Starkville residents in the area because they would be working for their hometown. Through the city’s additional education program, these young firefighters can also receive assistance if they ever wanted to pursue any type of higher education.
Even for participants who decide not to pursue careers as firefighters, the program would promote fire safety and potentially help reduce juvenile crime, Yarbrough said.
“Right now by doing this we would not only get them interested in being a firefighter, but if they don’t want to be a firefighter, they still have the opportunity to learn some skills, to move them forward,” Yarbrough said.
Just like Lockridge, young people can make an impact on communities. He said he is thankful for choosing this career because it has taught him responsibility by putting others before himself.
“I joined because I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives, and I believe that other people should choose this career path, too,” Lockridge said. “Our motto at Starkville Fire Department is ‘service before self’ and to me that means that I’m putting myself on the line for someone else.”