WHITESTOWN, Ind. (WISH) — It’s been a tradition for fire departments across the country to set an age minimum of 21 for applicants.
In Whitestown, the fire chief decided it didn’t make sense anymore to restrict those as young as 18 who wanted to be firefighters.
Lt. Samuel Fehrer loves being a firefighter.
“I’ve always wanted to serve my community and serve my country,” he said.
He set out to wear the fireman’s suit and helmet at a young age.
“When I joined the fire service at the age of 15, it was pretty much the only thing I wanted to do,” he said.
But instead, he joined the military out of high school.
“Due to the fact there was age restrictions of 21 or older to be on the fire department,” he said.
He ended up becoming a fireman after he was eligible.
But he has friends who left the fire service as teenagers and never returned when they were old enough.
“The fact that they had to wait to become a full-time member or a part-time member anywhere, it kind of pushed them away to do other things,” he said.
That’s just one of the reasons Chief Josh Westrich decided to allow applicants as young as 18.
“We want to get some young, aggressive personnel in here that we can get in for the long haul,” Whitestown Fire Chief Josh Westrich said.
He said if a person can join the military like Fehrer, they should be able to be a firefighter.
“If you’re 18, you’re old enough to fight for your country and be a responder in that sense. Why couldn’t you be a first responder at home?” Westrich said.
He also said this change is supported by existing state rules.
“The state’s minimum requirement for fire certification and EMT is 18,” he said.
Just this week, he opened the application process for hiring and he’s already seen a spike.
He hopes in the future, high school students can plan to apply after graduation and not enter a holding pattern like in the past.
Wayne Township Fire Department also just lowered the age limit to 18, for many of the same reasons Whitestown did.
South Bend’s fire department also just reduced its applicant age to 18.