Explorers get hands-on firefighting and EMS experience.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
T A RECENT FIRE TRAINING session, 15-year-old Tim Unkefer learned a valuable lesson.
Crawling through the smoke-filled train station, Unkefer lost his way -- and his partner.
Firefighters had filled the department-owned train station with nontoxic smoke, showing want-to-be firefighters what they can't see when searching a smoke-filled building.
"I turned around and my partner was gone," Unkefer said. "The firefighters came in and got me. They told me if I lost my partner like that in a real fire, he'd be dead and so would I."
East Palestine-area teenagers interested in firefighting or emergency medical services careers have the chance for hands-on training and experience through the city fire department's Explorer program.
Teenagers 15 to 19, both boys and girls, can learn firefighting or EMS basics several years before they can become certified, said Dennis Stock, an East Palestine firefighter and paramedic, and the Explorers lead adviser.
Boy Scout organization
Explorers is an organization of the Boy Scouts of America that gives teenagers hands-on exploration of law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical services careers. Stock said the only requirements to participate are desire, physical ability, and first aid and CPR certification.
Explorers meet at the Clark Street fire station twice a month for meetings and fire training. During the recent training at the train station, firefighters worked the Explorers in pairs, drilling them on the proper search techniques. The drill was also designed to see how various pairs work together.
"You have to work with everyone," Stock said. "You don't get to choose. You work with whoever shows up when the tones go off."
As Unkefer emerged from the train station after his failed rescue attempt, even before he had his mask and helmet off, firefighters were yelling at him.
Firefighters meant for the lesson to be a tough, memorable one, a lesson meant to save him from a fatal lesson later.
"They were yelling at me because I wasn't yelling enough in there," he said. "You can't see anything. Your partner might be right beside you, but you can't see him. I have to know where my partner is. I have to communicate a lot more."
While some Explorer members are simply giving firefighting a try for "something to do," most said they decided long ago to be firefighters or EMS workers. Some want to do both.
'Gets in your blood'
Chief Brett Todd said many firefighters, EMTs and paramedics he knows said they knew at a young age that firefighting or EMS work is what they were born to do.
"It just gets in your blood," Todd said. "You know what they say about firefighters. We're the only ones crazy enough to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out."
Todd said the Explorers program is important because the Explorers are the future of the department.
Matt Greaves and Josh Foster, both 19, are East Palestine volunteers and former Explorers. With their dads on the department, both said they were brought up in the firehouse. Foster's grandfather was also a city firefighter, and Greaves' mother is an EMT.
"I was running around in here at 2," Greaves said. "We both knew early that firefighting is what we wanted to do. Explorers just got us in the door sooner."
Curtis Bosley, 15, can hardly wait to be 18, when he will be eligible to take fire and EMS exams. He spends much of his free time at the fire station. He can accompany pairs of EMTs or paramedics, even though he can't begin EMS training until he's 17.
Bosley said to go on ambulance runs, he must know all the equipment on the ambulances and where they are stored so he can reach for it when paramedics or EMTs ask for it.
Ryan Coots, 16, said he's wanted to be a firefighter "ever since I was a kid. It's fun, and I want to save lives," he said.
Greaves and Foster know, however, that there will be days ahead when firefighting is anything but fun; days when all their best efforts will fail, and all their training and preparation won't matter.
While still Explorers, Greaves and Foster worked a fatal house fire.
"It really opened our eyes," Foster said.
"A fire like that makes you realize what could happen anytime," Greaves said.
Greaves and Foster said although the Explorers still have a lot to learn, they are already a great help to firefighters.
"They do a lot for us during a fire," Greaves said. They can't go into a building or knock down a door, but they can do everything else."
The Explorers also help keep the fire station, vehicles and equipment clean and organized, ready for the next call.
"They know if they see a mess, clean it up," Greaves said.
"We don't take advantage of them or anything," EMT Russell Pieri said. "Hey Curtis [Bosley], by the way, Squad 122 needs waxed again."