BFD PHOTO Belvidere Republican
The Explorers in the Boone County Fire Fighting program will now rotate from station to station so they can get a wider range of experience and instruction types. Here they are at the Belvidere Fire Dept.

By Anne Eickstadt

The Boy Scout Explorer programs are interactive, worksite-based career education program of Learning for Life, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. Participants in the program are called Explorers. The program serves youth in 6th to 8th grades and young men and women who are 14 through 20 years old. Explorer units are sponsored by local businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, and usually focus on a single career field, but can also introduce youth to a variety of career fields.

In Boone County, Boone County Fire District 3 and the Belvidere Police Dept. have hosted Explorer groups for many years.

District 3 Explorer Program Director Frank Perez said, “I ran the Firefighter Explorer program by myself for seven years. Then some of the other guys came onboard and I am so thankful for their help. There is so much to do, I don’t think I could run this program without them. They contribute so much knowledge, skills, and inspiration to everyone.

“The kids learn all about the equipment a firefighter uses, which gets really expensive, so area fire departments often donate their older equipment (which has been replaced). The kids can practice getting in and out of their kit (some of which can be kinda ragged but its something they can work with), see how different air masks and air tanks need to be handled, check out the controls on the engines and other vehicles, work with the fire hose, and learn everything a rookie firefighter needs to know. They have their own rank structure within the group and learn to work together as a team.

“Over the years we have acquired lockers where the kids can keep their equipment. They are always finding ways, such as holding their annual Spaghetti Dinner, to raise money to replace equipment, such as out-of-date air tanks, to continue their training.

“Five of our kids have recently been hired as firefighters. Within the past year Boone County District 2 has hired four of our Explorers: Tyler Losh, Joey Prokop, Michael St. Germaine, and E.J. Lollins, while Josh Morall, who just graduated from the Army National Guard (for fire fighting) was hired on in Capron. Another half dozen Explorers have been hired by local fire departments in the last few years.

“Fire departments hire new people as needed. Some of them need a lot of additional training before they can fully function as part of the team. Some of them have never even worn an air pack. Other new hires, such as our Explorers, have already had a lot of training and can smoothly join the firefighting team while only needing to learn that particular team’s methods and habits.

“In a recent discussions, Belvidere Fire Chief Hyser, all the Boone County Fire Districts, and I agreed to rotate the Explorers from station to station so they can get a wider range of experience and instruction types. This availability and cross-training with all the departments in the county will broaden their horizons and do an even better job of preparing them for a future career in fire services.

The current roster of youth in the Boone County Firefighter program is: Adriana Anderson; Aubrey Anderson; Maxwell Banks; Robert Bland; Hunter Keithley; Marco Lavariega; Christian Molosz; Trent Noe; Riley Rankin; Payton Sanford; and Wyatt Schober-Wieczorek.

Their advisors are Program Director Frank Perez; Captain Timothy Davis; Post Advisors Christopher McElhinney; Kevin Byrnes, and BFD Lt. Chad Cunningham and Firefighter Ron Herman.

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