Should any one of the dozen or more young people involved with North County Fire Protection District’s (NCFPD) Fire Explorer program (Post #2740) elect not to pursue a career in firefighting, they most certainly would be ideal candidates for the U.S. Marine Corps.
During a Nov. 3 training session, the Explorers responded to every question posed to them from a superior with a hearty “Sir, yes sir” and hustled to and from their assigned posts with military precision. The more senior of the explorers took the lead with their charges, directing the newest members of the group in several tasks that all of the explorers were required to successfully perform during the exercise.
Training under “Red Flag” conditions – similar to what they very well might encounter as full-fledged firefighters – the Explorers were decked-out in full firefighting gear. Their uniform of the day included 40-pound hose packs, survival equipment and tools they would need during a 10-hour training session on a hillside near Interstate 15. The temperatures this day reached almost 90 degrees, and inside their heavy yellow protective suits, it must have felt significantly warmer. They huffed deeply as they climbed the hillside, picked and shoveled a fire break, and carried those 50-foot lengths of hose to the site of an imagined blaze.
Through it all, and typical of a Marine, not a single one of the explorers was heard to complain.
“These guys are tough, but they have to be, to stay in this program,” said Tom Harrington, who along with Joe Harlin, are responsible for training the explorers. Both Harrington and Harlin are graduates of the NCFPD Explorer program. They know first-hand what it takes to progress from explorer to firefighter.
“It takes a great deal of commitment. This isn’t like playing a sport in high school, where when the season is over, you can relax and wait until next year to start training again,” said Harrington.
“We have these guys in some sort of training, every week, all year long. It’s like I said, it takes real commitment to be in this program.”
In addition to the training exercises, explorer candidates also participate in community service events, and in other drills that help build camaraderie and enhance a teamwork environment crucial to firefighting. Each explorer must also attend mandatory weekly three-hour training sessions.
Candidates for the program must be between 15 and 21 years old; successfully pass a physical exam and an oral interview; maintain a “C” grade level in school; agree to commit to the program, and have a sincere desire to pursue a firefighting career.
Even if the explorer completes the entire program, there is no guarantee of employment with NCFPD.
“Just because they do well and finish the entire program, there’s nothing that says they will be hired,” said Hamlin.
“I went through this program several years ago, and there were no guarantees then, and there aren’t any now, for these guys. It certainly can help that they have completed the explorer program, but there are no guarantees.”
The Fire Explorer program is derived from the Boy Scouts of America, and was designed to help young men and women gather real-life experiences and insight into a possible career in firefighting. Many past members of NCFPD’s explorer program have gone on to careers in the fire service as a firefighter, paramedic, engineer or captain.
“This program isn’t for everyone,” said Harrington. “But it is a great way to learn firefighting, and to find out if this is the right career for someone who has an interest in becoming a firefighter.”
Currently, NCFPD is accepting applications for the 2013 calendar year for the program. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31 (2012) and information packets are available the district’s office at 330 South Main Avenue in downtown Fallbrook.