Youth program fans the flames of young volunteer’s enthusiasm

Aug 16, 2022

ROCHESTER – When a shredder processor caught fire at Covanta on Aug. 5, volunteer firefighter Lauren Eldridge was one of the first firefighters on the scene.

“This would be a pretty cool first fire for someone,” one of the firefighters from the Plymouth County Canteen said.

This made Eldridge laugh. “Yeah, it is pretty cool,” she said, acknowledging that not only was she one of the first on the scene but also that this was her first scene since graduating from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Bridgewater in May.

Eldridge said she panicked a little, but she also described the experience of her first fire as “wicked exciting.” After all, she trained for years for this moment.

Eldridge, who is 19, has been working with the Rochester Fire Department since she was a freshman in high school, when she started in their junior explorer program. She is the youngest volunteer on the team – and the youngest volunteer in recent history. Current regulations require volunteers to be 18.

Select Board member Paul Ciaburri, a volunteer firefighter in Rochester for more than 40 years, said there used to be a time when kids could join at 14 or 15, “before they could even drive.”

Eldridge joined just after her 18th birthday.

There are some advantages to being the youngest and smallest member of the team, Eldridge said: “No one else messes with my gear.”

Both of her parents work with the Rochester Fire Department, and Eldridge’s father, Jeff Eldridge, is a captain.

“When I was little, I wanted to be just like my dad,” Eldridge said, remembering how she always got to ride on the fire truck in parades. “I’d see him run out the door on a call, and I always wanted to go with him.”

Eldridge’s parents were instrumental in starting the junior firefighting program Explorer Post 343 in 2017. The program is available to high school students in the Tri-Town ages 14 to 18. Eldridge was part of the first freshman class in the program.

Students in the program devote time after school on Tuesdays and on Saturday mornings to begin introductory fire fighting training.

Over the years, Eldridge took exams and worked her way up to the rank of captain for Post 343, where she executed lesson plans for others in the program.

Ciaburri said that the group is “lucky” to get even one or two recruits out of the junior program.

He explained that it has become more challenging to find volunteers since many people have day jobs outside of Rochester or find the training to become certified volunteers to be too rigorous.

Eldridge said that getting the training was no small time commitment.

After graduating high school in May, Eldridge was allowed to join the volunteer team at the fire department while enrolling in Firefighting Academy in Bridgewater to become a certified volunteer – and she was juggling a full-time job as a welder at Ferreira’s Mobile Repair. 

While going through training, she could help at the department, but couldn’t go on calls until she completed the program in May.

Eldridge was working over 12-hour days when she was going through the training program at Bridgewater, starting work at Murphy's by 5 a.m. and getting out of volunteer training by 10 p.m.

"I didn't have a life," she laughed.

Eldridge said the days were "exhausting," but the training itself was "a piece of cake." Eldridge felt fully prepared by the lessons she learned in the junior firefighting program. She recounted times when the training would spend a month teaching a skill she was already comfortable with.

“Anyone who is thinking about it should do the junior program because it really prepared me,” said Eldridge.

She also credits her “fire family” as a big reason the job means so much to her.

“My ‘fire family’ is basically the entire town of Rochester,” she explained. “Everybody knows you. If you need help, you always have a support system. If something happens, we all get together. It’s just one huge happy family.”

The junior firefighter program is looking for recruits for its next class, which starts in September. All high school students from Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester are eligible and can reach out to Capt. Justin Dubois at to begin the sign-up process.