By MURRAY BISHOFF
An Explorers chapter for young people aimed at getting involved with the mission of firefighting is taking shape in Monett. Permission to organize a youth group similar to the Boy Scouts was given by the Monett City Council at its March 20 meeting.
"Explorers is a program that's all about pride in community," said Shane Anderson, training officer with the Monett City Fire Department who has taken the lead in setting up the new group. "Those involved will learn the history of the town and the Fire Department. They will do projects focused on community betterment."
The idea for starting an Explorers chapter in Monett goes back about five years, Anderson said. Firemen in the department have been talking about it among themselves. In addition, the Barry County Fire Chiefs have expressed concern in their meetings about retention and recruitment.
Rick Lasky, the fire chief from Lewisville, Texas, who has gained a reputation as an advocate, offers a program on "Pride and Ownership" in the profession. His tapes are used in department training. One of Lasky's major themes is bringing back the old image of community involvement for fireme. He believes the headquarters should be a "fire house," not an impersonal "fire station."
Through the traditional approach, Laski argues, New York City firemen got the reputation of "New York's bravest." By banking on the profession's rich history, firemen gain trust and become role models.
Anderson said the Explorers program would put firemen in direct contact with young people, providing an outlet for them to claim ownership in the community and to play a vital role in its preservation and protection.
Explorers is part of the national program, Learning for Life. It is organized under well-defined procedures and standards. A five-member board will oversee the local chapter. Several have already agreed to serve. Anderson said those who are familiar with firefighting and its culture, including the wife of a fireman, are being approached.
"It's better to have people who know why we do the things we do involved," Anderson said.
The program will be primarily designed for teens ages 14 to 18. Bill Kenner, an area representative with Boy Scouts of America, will help set up the activities. Kenner will set up a question-and-answer session with parents of prospective participants so that everyone knows what to expect.
The union affiliate at the department, Local 2001, has shown considerable pride in establishing the program and is lending its support to the effort, Anderson said. The new organization will be Explorers Post 2001.
"The key to the fire service is everything must meet a standard," Anderson explained. Participation will depend on standards such as grades. The young people will have to learn department standards, which exceed those of Learning for Life, before they can be involved with department activities.
Anderson said Explorers will have to go through "an exhaustive amount of safety features." There will be training through the Fire Department. Explorers will not be allowed to run hydraulic equipment, go up ladders except in training or go in structure fires. There will be rules about responding to fire events as a group, not as individuals.
Among the activities Explorers may undertake are different exercises in character education. One study area, for example, has 26 moral dilemmnas to develop critical thinking. Program guides offer career clusters to promote thinking about employment strategies in 10 different areas, from aviation and business to engineering and skilled trades.
Adult leaders would also have to undergo training on how to interact safely with young people. These adults would have to submit to a criminal background check.
The outgrowth of an Explorers Post isformation of a Junior Firefighters program. Anderson said Junior Firefighters would run from ages 18 to 21 and be similar to Explorers. There are no present plans to expand into a Junior Firefighters program.
"They would be like a volunteer but not allowed to go into a hazardous environment. There would be no pay. What they do would be at the chief's discretion," Anderson said.
In his presentation to the council, Anderson stressed there would be no liability to the city. Parents pay for insurance through Learning for Life. The only cost to the city was an initial $20 sign-up fee.
Anderson was hopeful the Explorers program could have a positive effect on teen violence in general by giving participants a stake in the community. The amount of activities undertaken by the group will depend on the Explorers themselves. Like a Scout troop, the Post will have its own leadership and advisors making those decisions.
Once the board is named, members will vote on standard operating procedures. Once the ground rules have been outlined, an invitation to participate will be extended. Around seven children of firefighters have already expressed interest. Anderson hopes to have at least 15 participants and have a program started by summer.