As the sun began to set on Asheville Fire Station 7 in North Asheville on Sept. 8, three groups of teenagers were going through drills: rolling out and connecting fire hoses, reviewing knots used on fire scenes, and seeing how quickly they could put on full firefighter gear. In upcoming weeks, the Explorers will run an obstacle course in full gear – dubbed the “Pennsylvania Drill” – that simulates a fire and rescue scenario.
The members of the Asheville Fire Department’s Explorer Post 77 are training for an October competition in Georgia among other Explorer posts, but the skills they are learning and using are not that different from what they do on every other Wednesday evening.
The post, headed up by AFD Battalion Chief Doug Zuendt, Lt. Jason Robeson and Firefighters Aaron Lunsford and Zach Wetmore, gives Asheville’s young men and women age 14 to 20 the chance to get a taste of what firefighting is all about and even see if it is a career direction they want to pursue.
“We aren’t trying to turn them into firefighters,” says Zuendt. “But we are trying to pique their interest.”
During meetings, Explorers learn about firefighting equipment, ladder skills and first aid. Many in the post, Zuendt notes, were recently CPR certified. And, he says, the teens also provide support for firefighters under certain situations. At this summer’s Bele Chere festival, Explorers were on hand at the fire station and at first aid booths, making sure Asheville Firefighters had what they needed to do their jobs.
But the experience gained by participating in an Explorer post, Zuendt says, goes beyond specific skills.
“This is another program, like sports, that makes them a better, well-rounded person. It helps us as a department and in the community as a whole,” Zuendt says. “There are a lot of things these guys could be doing on a Wednesday night, but they’re here.”
Firefighter Aaron Lunsford, who joined the AFD last year, spent two years in the Explorer post before applying for the position. He says the experience is a great prep for anyone curious about the operations of the department.
“They get to see what we do in the station day to day,” Lunsford says. “They get a basic understanding of how we do things and why we do things. They learn from us.”
They also learn from each other. Zuendt points out that Explorers who have already been in the program have the ability to teach what they know to newcomers. “Lots of times, I’m not teaching them. These guys are teaching them,” he says.
Explorer post meetings are one way in which the City of Asheville, including the Asheville Police and Fire Departments, reach out to make positive contact and build relationships with area youth. The AFD also participates in the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy, the Huskins program, which teaches fire prevention in local high schools, and operates a youth summer camp.
Asheville Fire Department Chief Scott Burnette says all of those programs help the department support Asheville City Council’s goal of attracting a diverse and quality local workforce that reflects the community.
“Through the Explorer Program, we hope to spark the interest of local youth in the fire service, especially among females and minorities,” Burnette says. “We want to use the Explorer program to expand our local applicant pool as well as use it as a springboard into its other programs for local youth career development.”
About 20 young adults participate in the Asheville Fire Department Explorer Post 77, but Zuendt says there is always room for more to participate. Boys and girls are welcome to apply, and parents can attend a meeting to see what the AFD Explorer Post 77 is all about. Click here for more information.