In my department you can join as a firefighter at 16, with the restrictions that you can not perform an interior attack before you are 18, at the ICO's discression. you can take all classes necessary. and perform in all drills. Firefighters under 18 are required to maintain a passing GPA in school to remain active, unless they have already graduated. you must be 18 to drive any apparatus other than the brush truck. my dept. is the Penrhyn Engine & Hose Co., serving the Middle Granville fire district in Washington County, NY
18 here in Ontario, Canada.
My department is one of the few around my province (or at least my part of it) that will take on Juniors.
There is very little talk about juniors in Ontario. Juniors Start at 16.
They go through the same training program that the new 'over 18-year-olds' get.
Juniors are not allowed to drive F.D. vehicles.
After the Juniors' training is done, they get to dress (one of the safe/legal uses for 'expired' bunker gear) at a scene and stand at the back of the equipment van and watch. They can hand out water, help change SCBA bottles and keep them organized, be an EXTRA set of buddy-system eyes after a FF masks-up prior to joining an interior team, wash trucks, sweep the bay, help with truck checks (under supervision), etc.
We have a "cadet program" from 14-18 years old with parental consent. Cannot be a firefighter until age 18 but you do not have to be state certified, just entry level...at least on our volunteer department in WI.
Sarah - from what I understand from some of the well-seasoned firefighters that are on FFN who live and work in your neck of the woods - fire fighting in New Zealand is done very differently than in the United States.
So I am not sure that this conversation is an equal comparison between firefighters, since the expectations of different countries seems to be dramatically different. I do hope the seasoned guys from your area come into this conversation and reflect the differences much better than I could ever articulate.