HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg Fire Department has welcomed a new and young face to its staff.
Brianna Petit, 18, joined the department Aug. 12 as the new full-time child safety seat technician replacing Ariel Rodriguez, who held the position for six years but left in June.
Petit, who lives in Augusta County, had been a volunteer for the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Company and Weyers Cave Volunteer Fire Company since she was 16 years old. She also worked at the Augusta County Parks and Recreation after-school program called ReCreate from August 2017 to May 2018.
“This new job gave me the opportunity to combine both involving myself in fire and rescue and working with kids and keeping them safe,” Petit said in an interview Wednesday.
Petit completed the National Child Passenger Safety Seat Certification program through Safe Kids Worldwide, which is a global nonprofit working to help families and communities keep kids safe from injuries, according to its website.
After competing with more than 30 applicants, she was excited to hear she would have the opportunity to work with the city.
Petit’s duties include being responsible for installing child safety seats, responding to traffic stops where police officers run across people who don’t have safety seats and working with the Virginia Department of Health, which provides car seats to low-income families.
Her annual salary is $32,364.80, without benefits.
Harrisonburg Fire Department Lt. Erin Stehle said she had the same job back in 2011 and it kept her busy.
“Most people don’t realize how important this is,” Stehle said, adding that three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. “We wish more people would use the service itself.”
Most HFD personnel have extensive knowledge on child safety seats because of the calls they run and how many people stop by the station, according to Stehle.
But extensive knowledge doesn’t mean they are certified.
“Oftentimes, people assume that all police and fire employees are certified because it requires education, training and analytical thinking — it’s kind of like a puzzle,” Stehle said about properly securing a safety seat into a vehicle.
She said the most difficult thing that comes with the job of the child safety seat technician or any police or fire employee is tending to the motor vehicle crashes of young people, some including a child in the car.
Stehle said the leading cause of death for those 19 and younger is car crashes.
“Many people don’t know there is such a thing as a child safety seat technician, or any sort of education on how to safely assemble a child seat,” Stehle said. “So Brianna’s job is very important.”
Petit said for now she is going to focus on learning the ropes of her job, but in the future plans to take more courses in fire and safety. One of her goals is to take a course on child safety with kids with special needs.
“I think that Brianna brings a lot of passion and empathy for our community and she is young and vibrant and excited for this position,” Stehle said. “Her ability to educate people mixed with her love for children will be a huge asset for us.”
Petit acknowledged early on that it will be hard learning to balance her personal and work life, but is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful and help others be safe.
“Work is everything to me and I love the kids and the community here so I want to make sure I give my all to this and make sure the kids here are safe,” she said. “I had expectations coming into this job and it’s been bigger than I thought, but I love it and I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.”