by Adam Gruenewald
The Southwest Carver County Fire Explorers are still going strong after four years with several key members looking to continue their experiences.
For students ages 14 to 20 who have completed eighth-grade, the Fire Explorers group was started in 2013 under the leadership of Cologne Assistant Chief Nick Joos, Norwood Young America firefighter Steve Noll and Hamburg Fire Chief Brad Droege.
The hands-on program involves students in firefighter and emergency response training, letting them go on calls as observers, provide support at emergency scenes and even use equipment and gear during different types of specialized monthly drills ranging from controlled burns, simulated search and rescues, auto extraction, water rescues, firehose training, fire attack, CPR and first aid.
Post Training Advisor Kevin Raether, who took over from Droege, said the training sessions, involving 30-minute meeting before a 90-minute training experience, are helpful to expose students to elements of first-year firefighter training.
“Hopefully kids can get recruited to be volunteers in one of our three towns or any town,” he said. “Every town is in need of volunteer firemen now.”
The Southwest Carver County Fire Explorers is certainly a benefit to the area fire departments as they are interested in using it as a feeder program for firefighters. While NYA Fire Department is at their full 30-member number and there is a waiting list, Raether said needs have increased.
“It’s a good stepping stone,” said Raether. “If it’s something you’re interested in you can start out learning here. It gets you a head start.”
Among the nine current members of the Southwest Carver County Fire Explorers, which includes kids from NYA, Hamburg Cologne and even Waconia and Green Isle, are Fire Explorers Capt. Morgan Krueger, First Lt. Luke Silseth and Second Lt. Abbie Luskey.
Luskey, who is 17 and a Central junior, said she got interested in the group with her family involved in the department, including her dad Pete.
“I joined because it runs in my family and I’m following in my dad’s footsteps,” she said, adding she wants to study to be a paramedic like Pete in the future.
In particular, Abbie has enjoyed the search and rescue drills, where rooms are set up with a maze of tables and the Explorers then try to find volunteers, like a recent younger kid.
“We had to go find him and we wore our masks backwards so we can’t see anything so it’s like we were in a house full of smoke,” she said.
Pete, who has been on the NYA Fire Department for 18 years and certainly enjoys having his daughter in the Fire Explorers, said members of the Explorers also learn CPR and can earn college credits as well.
“We’re training them to be medical and fire personnel but we just scale it down,” said Pete. “It’s not the full, but it’s close. It’s a scaled down version of actually being a firefighter.”
Fellow Fire Explorers advisor Steve Ehrenberg added those skills are useful even if Explorers don’t become firefighters.
“I like working with the younger people and get them interested,” he said. “Even if they don’t join the fire department, they learn some things that could help them in everyday life, first aid.”
Fellow Explorer Luke Silseth, 19, who is studying Ag Mechanics as MSU-Mankato is one of the five original members of the group.
“I’ve always wanted to be on the fire department so when I found out they had this going I thought it would be a great way to get in and learn,” he said.
Also, Silseth said he encourages others to join the Fire Explorers group.
“It’s a lot of fun, you learn a lot and meet new people,” said Silseth. “You can maybe learn that it’s something you really want to do and you can join the fire department someday.”
To learn more about the Fire Explorer program, visit Southwest Carver County Fire Explorers on Facebook or call Kevin Raether at 952-467-2633.
Also, visit http://www.fdnya.com/about/sw-fire-explorers.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.