Teens, ages 14 to 18, in Westwood have an extracurricular activity outside the school system. They can become part of the Fire Explorer program offered by the Westwood Fire Department.
Currently, seven students are taking advantage of the opportunity. They are Justin Boyd, Carson Gibbs, Maddex Kinsey, Kori Duerksen, Isaiah Halcrow, Garrett Sutton and Vito Valegra.
Participation has many benefits, according to Fire Chief Forest Duerksen. The teens learn basic firefighting skills taught to candidates trying to obtain a firefighter one certification. A training manual from the International Fire Service Training Association is used as the curriculum.
“It is a mini academy,” said Duerksen. Training includes skills for responding to emergency medical incidents since 90 percent of the calls received by the Westwood Fire Department are for medical aid.
The Fire Explorer program gives students insight into career opportunities after high school. If they decide to pursue this career path, training is part of their resume. The experience also looks good on a college resume. Explorers are allowed to go with the volunteers to local structure fires but are assigned to duties outside the building, such as lining up tools needed at a certain point. There are guidelines for what the teens can and cannot do. For example, they cannot climb ladders. The Explorers cover the station when Westwood firefighters respond to a fire out of town or if the volunteers are called to a medical emergency.
Explorers meet personnel from other agencies in the process of performing their duties. This provides connections with such agencies as Sierra Emergency Medical Services Authority, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service, which makes it easier for the teens to get a job when openings are available should this be their goal.
The Explorer’s have varied reasons for taking part. For example, Kinsey thought firefighter experience would be of benefit later in life, and Boyd said it’s a great start for a potential public service career. Halcrow and Gibbs want to help people in their community.
Kori Duerksen, the fire chief’s daughter, has the same motivation. In addition, she sees the Explorer program as a good opportunity and an activity that might be fun.
Duerksen confirms that some of the training will be fun. One evening the medical helicopter will land and they will learn about proper patient transport techniques via life flight. They will also do blackout drills where they find their way out of a building when there is no visibility via the fire hose. Fire Explorers meet at the Westwood Fire Station at 6:30 p.m on Monday evenings. JR Beavers, a volunteer firefighter, assists Duerksen in leading the group. In addition, Malinda Duerksen volunteers as the female advisor so young women can participate. The program is a branch of the Boy Scouts of America.