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A day in the life of a firefighter
Teens age 14-18 given the opportunity to join fire explorers program to train and compete
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Suiting up: Rockdale County Firefighter Michael Morris adjusts the breathing apparatus on a Heritage High School student who donned firefighter gear during a recruiting session for the new Fire Explorers program. - photo by Michelle Kim

The Rockdale County Fire Division is looking for a few good teens.

The county recently started its own fire explorers program, designed to give students practical, on-the-job training while letting them get a taste of what its like to be a firefighter.

"Basically showing them what we do and letting them get out there and do what we do," said firefighter Michael Morris, who, along with Safety Educator Sharon Webb, organized and spearheaded the program over the last six months. "Of course, they’re not allowed to fight a live fire, but they’ll get out there and roll hose and eventually ride on the engine."

The program is open to students, males and females, ages 14-18 and will teach skills such as CPR along with AED training, first responder and basic EMT training. Participants must maintain at least a C grade average, attend at least 60 percent of the meetings, and pay a $10 fee for insurance, provided through the Boy Scouts of America. The meetings started May 11, and they are held every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, going through the summer, at Rockdale Fire Station 8, 1164 Scott Street.

Both the Conyers Police and Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office also have an Explorers program, and the Conyers Fire Department had an Exploring program before the county and city fire departments merged. The Exploring program is part of by Learning for Life, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, which allows young people to learn about and experience different service professions.

And in many ways, the program reflects its roots, as students learn to serve and learn responsibility. Although Rockdale firefighters will serve as teachers and administrators, part of the program’s design is to allow the students to handle their own fundraising and decide the direction of their group.

In addition to practical, job-applicable training, there are also scholarship opportunities available for students in the program, and chances to participate in regional and national Fire Explorers competitions where the students can pit themselves against other Explorers in a test of the skills they learn in the program.

"It’s a good opportunity for kids to train hard and compete against other folks," said Morris. "It’ll mean a lot to them to prove to themselves they can go out and tackle anything they want to do."

At the orientation meeting on May 4, about 25 parents and students heard about the program from organizers and department administrators.

Emergency Services Director John McNeil said the future generation of firefighters was sitting in that room. "There’s no other career I can think of that I would have wanted to be in or be a part of," said McNeil. "It’s an honor to be part of that brotherhood of firefighters."

Firefighter Brady Deal said being an Explorer when he was a teen made the difference for him. "It has shaped my career, helped me to be a better person," he said. "You’re hands on, right next to the person pulling hose. You work as a team, you build off one another’s experiences."

Many of the students signing up had dreams of being a firefighter since they were little.

"I always wanted to be a firefighter all my life," said Akin Robinson, 16, a junior at Salem High School.

"Since he was 3," interjected his mom, Kelly Robinson Stone, with a smile. "I thought he would outgrow it." She said she was happy that they didn’t have to go outside the county, to DeKalb, to find a program like the fire explorers.

Jessica Cannon, 16, a junior at Heritage High School, said she remembered being excited when firefighters would come to her elementary school. "I would like to do this as a career choice," she said.

India Freeman, a sophomore at Salem, said she was signing up for the program because her dad had been a firefighter and it would give her something to do.

Jerry Freeman said he thought it would be good for her. "It’ll make her a well rounded person. She’ll learn how to work as a team."

When asked why becoming a firefighter attracted him, Heritage High School student Francisco Sandoval, 18, broke into a wide smile and his eyes glowed as he struggled to find the words.

"I don’t really know," he finally said. "I just really want to become a firefighter."

For more information on the program, call 770-278-8401.