Education and training has always been a necessity in the fire service. For me, at age 39, as I look back on my 25 years with Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force, training and education was always a top priority. Being just 14 years old when I started with LOFS VFF as a fire cadet, I often was asked, “So you are a firefighter? What are you able to do as a kid? “

In early 1993, LOFS VFF had a few members who were pushing the idea of a cadet program. Even though these members were met with great resistance, by January 1994 the Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force cadets were holding their first official business meeting.

The question that came up time and time again from many on the LOFS VFF and from other departments in the area was, "How are you going to train a bunch of kids to be firefighters?" Joe McBride was one of the firefighters who was in charge of leading the program.  His answer was simple. “We are going to train the cadets the same as every other firefighter, only better!”

LOFS VFF held its training on Tuesday nights; the cadets' training was held on Monday nights.

It did not take long for others to notice the LOFS VFF Cadets were training hard and becoming a cohesive unit, even inspiring other firefighters to participate in the cadet training sessions. The cadets attended training throughout Northwest Indiana. They used Munster’s tower, Union Township smokehouse and the training facility at BP's Whiting Refinery.

After attending sessions at each of these facilities, McBride was praised by the training site coordinator for the hard work of the cadets, acknowledging them as though they were experienced firefighters. McBride explained that the group attending the training were his newly formed cadets ranging in ages from 14-17 years old. Joe McBride succeeded in his mission to help prepare the young cadets to become firefighters through education and great hands-on training.

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Over the years, many of the cadets continued in the fire service and climbed up the ranks to chief officers’ positions, not only in LOFS VFF but also in departments throughout the country. Some of these cadets now guide other novice firefighters through their education and training.

As we look at the present day demands of fire education and training, the requirements have greatly changed for the better. The Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Foundation training campus in Valparaiso provides a single facility for instruction. Volunteers from individual fire departments join together at one location so a greater number of recruits can be trained at the same time, developing a stronger fire force for the Northwest Indiana region.

As a fire chief, I have had many newly trained firefighters come to me after their first call and say, “It was just like they taught us in class!” So as a chief, I need to say thank you to the instructors, the MAAC Foundation, McMillan Family Foundation and all of the supporters who help make this training facility a success!

The ability to educate and train new firefighters in Northwest Indiana will forever be changed due to having the MAAC Campus at our doorstep. The MAAC not only brings together small classes of firefighters but also entire departments and multiple agencies by giving Northwest Indiana first responders a first class training facility to develop the skills of new recruits and keep the seasoned firefighters up-to-date in an ever evolving career.

For more information on how you can help keep Northwest Indiana first responders at the forefront of education and training, visit www.maacfoundation.com.

Jason Gikas is fire chief of the Lakes of the Four Seasons Volunteer Fire Force Inc. The opinions are the writer's.