Objective: Train youth volunteers to help a rural fire department on emergency calls, and help pay college expenses for those youth.
In a Nutshell: The Dragon Slayers are an around-the-clock, teen volunteer emergency rescue team. They get training in emergency medical response and firefighting during meetings twice a week. They must maintain passing grades and abstain from using tobacco, alcohol and drugs. When Dragon Slayers alumni go to college or pursue career training, the program pays them a stipend of $500 per semester for living expenses.
Where and When: In 1992, people living in or around the remote Alaskan village of Aniak were making more calls for emergency help than the eight adults working at the Aniak Fire Department could handle. Fire Chief Pete Brown reacted by recruiting high school youth to help.
Who Started/Runs It: Brown continues to maintain the program, administering training sessions and accompanying the Dragon Slayers on calls.
Obstacles: Some Aniak residents were unsure that teenagers could handle the responsibility of responding to emergency calls. “The town was a little leery of teenagers helping at the start,” Brown says. He says the youths had to work hard to counter that concern, and they “have proven themselves time and time again, and are now accepted.”
Cost: About $4,000 per year. About half is used for recruitment and training and the other half for the stipends. The cost is low because much of the equipment comes from the fire department, and only a couple of the kids go on to college or training programs each year.
Who Pays: Brown says private donors contribute most of the revenue. The Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska State Fire Marshals office and various Alaska Native associations pitch in to help the Dragon Slayers travel to conventions and presentations about fire and emergency services.
Youth Served: Nine youths, ages 13 to 18, are in the program now. (The town of Aniak has about 530 residents, according to the state’s website.) The youths come from Aniak and the surrounding rural area. Most participants are female, most are Yupik Eskimo and Athabaskan Indians, and many face challenges in their personal lives. “The fire department is another family” to them, Brown says. “A lot of these kids don’t have two parents. Some of them have none.”
Youth Turn-On: Brown says Dragon Slayers want to help the community and enjoy the action. “Helping people is a kick,” he says. “There is definitely an adrenaline rush when the beeper goes off.” Participants are also enticed by the college stipends and trips to conventions.
University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia (UCCP) at Temple University The Dragon Slayers work long and sometimes unpredictable hours, because they are on call all the time. Extensive job training is also a large time commitment.
What Still Gets in the Way: Dragon Slayers has attracted more girls than boys since the onset. Only two of the current members are boys.
“The girls claim it’s because the boys don’t have enough balls; they’re right,” Brown says. “They don’t want to stop the drinking, the macho; they don’t want to take orders from girls. Chauvinism is still really high out here.”