Fire Explorers wants to boost recruits

Nick Stroman
A Northern Tazewell Fire Explorers program participant assembles a fire hose after putting on fire gear during the program’s relay-style training Monday night.

Last March, the Northern Tazewell Fire Protection District and Washington Fire Department joined forces to beef up the local Boy Scouts Fire Explorers program.

Now, the explorers are looking to broaden their reach and recruit more high school students from Washington, East Peoria and Morton who would like to learn more about a career as a firefighter.

Jason Cook, captain of fire prevention in Washington, said it was a no-brainer for the two departments to work together on the Explorers program, as his brother, Jerry, works for the Northern Tazewell department.

Both the Cook brothers went through the fire and police Explorers program in Peoria when they were young.

Jerry said he came to his chief four years ago with the idea to bring it to his own department.

“He was cool with it as long as I would agree to run it,” Jerry said.

The Scouts also offer the program for hospital careers and jobs at Caterpillar.

“These kids participate in all the training a regular firefighter does. It just prepares them and gives them more opportunities for whenever they decide to become a full-time member with us,” Jerry said.

Some of those training exercises include search and rescues at homes and timed drills.

Although the program is geared to be year-round, during winter months it is harder for the

Explorers to perform outside training, so Jason said he relies on his career connections.

“I’ve been in fire service for 17 years, and because of people I know from other fire departments, we can have outside speakers come in to talk or maybe do rope training. Many of our kids are brought in by word of mouth from those contacts I have too,” Jason said.

The Northern Tazewell Fire Explorers have five boys and three girls ages 14 to 21 from Washington Community High School, East Peoria Community High School and Illinois Central College.

Jason said the program is designed so the students can run all the technical training while the Cooks assist.

“We’re supposed to just simply open the doors and let them do their thing. The Peoria program has more than 30 kids and can solely be run by the students, along with letting them do ride-alongs. We don’t have the numbers and we are a volunteer department, so that’s not feasible for us,” Jason said.

He added that Fire Explorers relies on monetary donations, as well as equipment handed down from other departments.

“We have fundraisers, but we also welcome donations or help all the time. We’re looking at getting with Spring Bay and Peoria soon to do joint training as well,” Jason said.

Another opportunity to brainstorm and train with other Explorers and departments is at the Peoria Fire Tower on Galena Road Oct. 24.

Jerry said two recent graduates of the program have become full-time firefighters. Others are on their way to careers.

“They are never forced to be there. It’s a good group of kids and they want to be one of us,” Jerry added.

This week is National Fire Prevention Week, and the students from the Northern Tazewell Fire Explorers program will have fire safety houses open from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Northern Tazewell Fire Department and from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Washington Fire Department.

“It’s a helping hand for us at our event, but it will also be a good chance for any Tazewell County students who might be interested in the Fire Explorers to come out and talk to our group firsthand and see what it’s all about. We really want to get the word out,” Jason said.