Firefighters, and other first responders, were youngsters once, and many were "Fire Explorers," like the ones recently hosted by the Henry County Fire Department.
Seventy-six young men and women from throughout the Southern Crescent area –– representing fire departments in the Asheville, N. C., Clarkesville, Ga., and in Clayton, Coweta, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton and Rockdale counties –– competed in the annual Fire Explorer Expo.
"The event is designed to bring Fire Explorers together," said Henry County Division Chief of Training Ike McConnell. "The expo is a fund-raiser for our post, as well as a way to compete, and display the talents the young men and women have."
Henry County Firefighter/EMT Jason McCullough is one of the original organizers of the Henry County Fire Explorer Post 190 program, which began in October of 2004. He is the Lead Advisor, and with the help of other advisors, designed and planned every aspect of the competition, according to Capt. Sabrina Puckett, public information officer for the Henry County Fire Department.
Henry County Fire Explorer Post 190 is a work-based learning program, in which men and women between the ages of 14 and 21, learn more about firefighting. The local fire explorers meet weekly on Monday nights, for two hours, at Henry County Fire Station No. 1, located at 664 Industrial Blvd., in McDonough.
"I was a fire explorer when I was a teenager in Clayton County, in the early ‘90s," said McCullough. "I recognized the value of the program in Clayton County, and I wanted to bring it to Henry County. I wanted my sons to participate in the program."
McCullough 35, and his wife, Christina, have three children, Kayla, 15, Andrew, 16, and Austin, 18.
Austin spent three years in the program and has enlisted in the U.S. Army, McCullough said. Andrew is currently enrolled in the Fire Explorer program.
"Each week, we teach them about aspects of the fire department," said McCullough. "How we operate and the tools that we use. The ultimate goal for the participants is to learn the information, and earn the privilege of doing a ride-a-long on the fire trucks."
Each explorer is expected to take a written test and a performance evaluation. They are evaluated on certain hands-on skills, according to McCullough.
Henry County Fire Explorers must be at least 16 years of age before they can take part in the ride-a-long on the fire truck. The explorers are also required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average in school.
The fire expo was held Saturday at the Jason T. Harper Event Center, in McDonough. Explorers competed in five events: "Quick-Dress," "Wake-up-Jacob," "Pittsburgh Drill," "Fire Attack," and "Tug-of-War."
"There are standards a firefighter has to meet," said McCullough. "In a ‘Quick Dress' procedure, [you have] to get all of the gear on and be ready to fight a fire in two minutes, or less."
The "Pittsburgh drill," requires a team of four to rescue a "downed" firefighter. "There are three obstacles they have to go through to get to the downed firefighter, and then they have to bring him back out," explained McCullough.
"Wake up Jacob" is a five-person relay event. Each person has a different task to accomplish, which includes a quick dress element. Three people work to assemble a hose line, and the fifth person is required to drag a 160-pound mannequin 50 feet, the trainer said.
"Fire attack is probably the most exciting event of the day, because the explorers get to spray water," said McCullough. In the event, a four-person team assembles a fire hose and navigates a course using a hose-stream to knock down cones along the way.