Teen Explorers Train For, Try Out Careers In Fire And Rescue At Boca, Florida Station

They were told to tuck in their shirts, put their heels together and not to move a single muscle.

"When you're in a ready position with your body straight, then your brain is listening. And when you're in a ready position, you can do almost anything," said Edwin Morales, a Naval Science instructor at Boca Raton Community High School's Navy Junior ROTC program and a retired Navy chief petty officer.

Morales came to Boca Raton Fire Rescue Station No. 5 to teach military protocol to the 19 young people who signed up to become the first group of Fire Rescue Explorers.

The Explorer Program is nationally recognized through the Boy Scouts of America. Delray Beach Fire Rescue also sponsors an Explorer Post.

The program, for young people ages 14 to 19, is for anyone interested in learning about a career in fire rescue or firefighting.

It primarily offers young people a chance to get hands-on experience and education in the field of fire rescue and emergency medical services. That's what attracted Kat Huang, the only female in the group, to sign up for the Boca Raton Explorer program.

"I wanted to work in a group that has a special bond, that's about more than just friendship. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get the real life, hands-on experience of fire rescue personnel," said Huang, 15, a ninth-grader at Saint Andrew's School in Boca Raton. She arrived with her father, Harry Huang, for the first evening of the program.

That's what attracted Trey Wilson, 14, of Delray Beach, who came with his parents Allen and Alexis Wilson.

"I heard about the Explorer Program from someone at my church and it sounded neat. I really enjoyed the evening and think it will be a good opportunity for me to have a job in the future helping people. It's not just playing around, it's something I can actually benefit from in my life," said Wilson, an eighth-grader at Spanish River Christian Middle School.

The prospective Explorers, who came from as far away as Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach, listened raptly as fire-rescue officials and politicians welcomed them.

"I'm jealous of you guys. They only let us ride with them [fire engines] on Christmas when they give out gifts to underprivileged children. It's exciting and very rewarding being a part of fire-rescue services," said Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams, as he welcomed the students and their parents on the first evening of the program.

Although discipline isn't ordinarily a subject that thrills teenagers, the young people were ready to learn about basic first-aid, CPR, fire-rescue operations, blood-borne pathogens and the tools and equipment on a fire truck.

The Boca Raton Explorers are meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays for 90 days to learn how to pull someone out of a car after a crash, how to use a stretcher and all about spinal immobilization. They will learn how to assist in emergency medical calls and see what it's like to be a firefighter.

Alex Colletta, 16, who lives west of Boca Raton, was excited to be a part of the first group of fire-rescue Explorers. "I heard about the Explorer Program through ROTC at school. I've always thought about working for the city as a firefighter or police officer," said Colletta, a Boca Raton High School sophomore.

Boca Raton Fire Chief Bruce W. Silk told the group how much fire-rescue services have grown.

"When the Boca Raton Fire Department first started, we had one truck and one firefighter. Now we have 170 employees and eight fire stations," he said. "There's a lot going on and it's an exciting business. We put out fires and we're involved in paramedic services. We are involved in hazardous materials, fire-code enforcement and fire inspections.

"When people call us, they need our help, and we do our best to save lives and property."

Although the Explorers will be introduced to the world of paramedics and fire rescue, there are other benefits as well.

"This program builds a better person. It prepares young people for life and helps them deal with the challenges that the future offers them. It also teaches them dependability, loyalty and how to depend on each other," said Frank Correggio, Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services public information officer.

Correggio has other plans for the Explorers, including field trips to the Florida State Fire College in Ocala and the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.

Explorer Christopher La Porta is already on the Community Emergency Response Team or CERT in Boca Raton.

"I want to pursue a career as a firefighter. I have a godfather who works as a firefighter paramedic for Boca Raton," said La Porta, 16, a Boca Raton High School sophomore who attended the meeting with his mother Caryn La Porta.

Funds for the Explorer program were budgeted through the fire department, but students must pay for their shoes and nametag. For field trips and expenses, Correggio is hoping that parents and students will help raise money.

"We're hoping to raise funds by having car washes, barbecues and spaghetti dinners. We're also hoping to get donations from local businesses and organizations for activities and training costs. The more money we raise, the more extracurricular activities we can do," Correggio said.