Explore your future career, even firefighting

Teens explore being a firefighter
Teens from around Minnesota and Wisconsin competed in an annual firefighting competition at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair. The Explorers program allows teens to get real-life experience of more than 100 careers.
Photo By: Dan Baden
“I love the adrenaline rush of just being on a truck and just hearing the sirens, and going out and putting out a small fire.” -- Ben Knowles, an Explorer from Fridley

You can’t see. Your fireproof suit and protective gear feel heavier than ever on your back. All you can feel is the ground beneath you and your partner’s ankle that you’re holding. Forming a human chain with your three other partners, blinded by darkness, you proceed through a doorway and crawl to reach an unconscious victim.

That’s an example of a rescue simulation teen firefighters experience as an Explorer. Exploring is run by the Northern Star Council, the same organization that runs the Boy Scouts of America.

Explorers is a career development program gives girls and guys ages 14-20 a taste of more than 100 careers. Firefighting is just one option. Explorers can also sign up for experience in fields like medicine, law enforcement, aviation, communications, and more.

About 200 firefighting trainees from Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin competed at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair in teams of four with two backup teammates. Ben Knowles, a firefighting captain from the Fridley Explorers post, led his three post-mates through a room search event.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking especially with the people watching over you making sure you are doing everything right,” Knowles said.

Exploring’s firefighters hold a competition annually at the Minnesota State Fair to showcase their skills. This was the Explorers eleventh year at the fair.

At the fair, Explorers were tested on:
— how long it took them to don their fire-fighting gear;
— rescuing a victim from a mock car crash in teams of four;
— raising, holding steady, and scaling a ladder;
— and assisting a victim in full cardiac arrest, using CPR and a defibrillator, which is used to restart someone’s heart if he or she has had a heart attack.

“[Firefighting] is not about skill, it’s about being a team player, having self-respect, and being depended on. Firefighting, just like law enforcement, is the epitome of teamwork, and being able to rely on your teammates,” said Melinda Inman, a senior Exploring executive.

The Explorers program, which is 61 years old, has helped many youths start their training in their preferred career.

“It’s good job training, to see if you really want to get into [firefighting],” said Nate Jeske, a 19-year-old Explorer from Oakdale who has been training since he was 12.

Jeske’s team leader — Nick Hendrickson, a firefighter for 11 years — assists the Oakdale team in training for their career as a firefighter. “It’s a good way to see if you want to be a firefighter, to get into those hiring pools,” Hendrickson said.

As an Explorer for two and a half years, Knowles has already decided he wants to be a firefighter. Knowles was inspired by his father, who is a firefighter in Fridley. But he also finds firefighting rewarding in its own right.

“Helping people is a great feeling,” Knowles said. “I love the adrenaline rush of just being on a truck and just hearing the sirens, and going out and putting out a small fire.”