SPENCER — Nearly every Fire Explorers lesson ends with a water fight.
The youth firefighters, ages 14 to 21, blast one another with the water hoses, laughing and tackling one another, stopping only when someone’s helmet falls off.
“The guy with the bigger hose usually wins,” said Daniel Skrant, a volunteer with the Spencer Fire Department and leader of Fire Explorers.
But the liveliness of the water fight only comes after hard work. The youths in Fire Explorers know how to do much of what they need to earn their fire certificate, but many have not even begun vocational school yet.
Fire Explorers is a national program that gives introductory emergency services training to teenagers who are too young to join a department. It derives from a Boy Scouts of America program, Skrant said.
Skrant implemented Fire Explorers at the Spencer Fire Department in April 2008.
“You get kids around town that love to do this stuff, but you have to be 18 to join the fire department,” Skrant said. “They get to actually help out in the community and plan a career. … This is a good start; they get their foot through the door.”
Skrant said the teens learn the basics, from how to operate fire trucks to protocols to pump operations.
“It’s more hands on, and it’s how a department really runs,” said Koty Brescan, 19, of Spencer. “Before Explorers, all I could do is watch.”
Brescan still trains with the Fire Explorers every Tuesday, and is a part-time volunteer with the Spencer Fire Department.
Although they are not certified to fight a fire from the inside, the Fire Explorers are allowed to be on the scene of a fire and fight it externally.
Brandon Ashley, 16, of Litchfield Township, fought two fires recently, including the July 16 fire that destroyed a barn at the Double D Farm in Chatham Township.
“I think a lot of people wouldn’t believe the stuff we get to do here,” Ashley said. “I’ve been to two fires, and I haven’t even been here a year.”
Skrant said Fire Explorers are well trained and useful at a fire, and he trusts them as much as he does the regular part-timers on the department.
Some of the Explorers are looking to make emergency services a full-time career, and some said they plan to volunteer at part-time fire departments.
Others said they were following in the footsteps of family members who volunteered for the Spencer department.
Justin Williams, 16, is the third generation to volunteer with the Spencer department. His father, Mark, has volunteered for 31 years, and his grandfather, Eugene Williams, also was a volunteer.
Stacee Wright, 17, joined Fire Explorers to follow in her father’s footsteps — first as a firefighter and then as a police officer. She also said she wants to be in emergency services “for the honor, and pride, and moral duties to those you live in town with.”
Brescan is also following the legacy of his father, who was a firefighter for more than 22 years, 15 of them at Spencer.
“I used to come to the fire department every day with my dad,” he said. “He’d get the call, and I’d come up here.”
Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.