To Shawn Levin, 16, being a firefighter is the best "high" there is.
"I'm sure this has kept me straight," the congenial Owings Mills teen joked.
"The adrenalin is pumping. I'm sure your blood pressure shoots up. This beats any high you can get," said Shawn, who has been out on more than 100 calls in about nine months as a firefighter.
He has done everything from crawling through a smoke-filled Towson office building while lugging heavy fire equipment during a six-alarm fire to answering a call for a downed power line.
He spends about 75 hours a week volunteering at the Chestnut Ridge or Owings Mills volunteer fire companies in Baltimore County, which includes time sleeping at the firehouses.
Steve Reter, the captain at the Chestnut Ridge Company, said Shawn has "been doing a fine job."
Fighting fires had long been Shawn's dream. "Every little kid dreams of being a firefighter," he said. About three years ago, a friend who was then 16 joined the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company. Less than two months after turning 16, Shawn volunteered.
Each of Baltimore County's 33 volunteer fire companies sets its own age limit on firefighters, said James Doran of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association.
"Some take them as young as 16. Some as young as 18, and some wouldn't touch them any younger than 21," Mr. Doran said.
He estimates that out of roughly 2,800 county firefighters, less than 5 percent are 16 or 17.
Volunteer firefighters undergo the same training as paid firefighters. For six months, Shawn trained for 11 1/2 hours a week, giving up Tuesday and Thursday evenings and all day Sunday. "It takes complete dedication," he said.
Despite his dedication to firefighting, Shawn is still a teen-ager at heart.
He plays lacrosse, soccer and runs track at Owings Mills High School, where assistant principal Alice DeShazo said his firefighting has not hurt his school performance. When the first phase of his training was over in July, Shawn headed off for a vacation. "I went to Ocean City and had fun like every teen-ager should," he said.
But in August, he was back in training to become an emergency medical technician. "Training," he explained, "is a never-ending process.
"I can use it everywhere," he added. "When I see someone get hurt, I don't have to ask someone to call an ambulance. I would be on an ambulance," he said.
Shawn, who is a senior and an honors student at Owings Mills, has chosen to forgo the opportunity to get academic credit for his volunteer work through the school's community service program.
"I don't have to say I'm a member of the community service club to feel good," he said. "I would rather to do itbecause I want to do it."
It doesn't bother him that most people never thank the firefighters who help them. "People call the fire department and expect it to come," he said. "The thanks I get is knowing that I helped someone."
Although he enjoys being a firefighter, Shawn has no desire to make it a profession. Instead, he wants to be a reconstructive surgeon.
Shawn's father, Murray Levin, is proud. Asked if he fears for his son's safety, he said, "The answer is no. He uses his head."