The Chagrin Falls Fire Department is looking to recruit young people to its Explorer Program, an opportunity for students to get a first-hand look at the life of a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Mike Bock, 18, of Bainbridge said he has benefited from the last four years of being involved with the program. “When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a firefighter,” the 2019 Kenston High School graduate said. “Being an explorer helps you determine if you really want to be a firefighter paramedic.”
Chagrin Falls Fire Department Lt. Jesse Phan, 24, started as an explorer with the Bainbridge Fire Department when he was 14 and now oversees the program in Chagrin Falls. Exploring is a career education program through Learning for Life, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. Lt. Phan said that explorers learn tactics and skills that others do not learn until they join the fire academy.
“This program really propels you,” Lt. Phan said. “It puts you lightyears ahead of everyone else. Everyone else is learning tactics and skills in fire school, and you’ve already practiced them.”
Exploring is open to boys and girls ages 15-21. Lt. Phan said that explorers tend to leave the program at 18 to start at a fire academy and look for jobs. The Chagrin Falls program accepts students from any area. Former explorers have come from Bainbridge, Orange Village and Streetsboro.
“Being an explorer is a sure bet for hiring purposes,” Lt. Phan said.
Mike said that he learned ice and water rescue as well as basic fire ground operations, such as the rules and regulations, the chain of command, changing out oxygen tanks and setting up the hose line. When Mike turned 16, he took part in a driver’s training course, where he maneuvered the fire truck between obstacles.
Outside of the training drills, Mike has also used his time as an explorer to go on 911 calls with the ambulance for patients reporting simple ailments such as shortness of breath or a broken leg, he said. Students were not permitted on calls involving car accidents or a double homicide, he added. Firefighters always keep the explorers out of harm’s way, Mike said.
“Ever since I did my ride along, my love for EMS grew deeper,” Mike said. “On the fire side, it keeps me determined to be a firefighter paramedic in the future.”
Mike now has a job aiding skiers who may fall or have injuries on the slopes of Boston Mills and Brandywine ski resorts in Brecksville and Alpine Valley in Chester Township.
He said that some of his favorite memories from his time as an explorer are the community outreach events. Every Halloween, the department hosts a haunted house in the bay, and Mike said that he liked to interact with the kids. He recalled that he enjoyed ladder training also, when the trucks visit different buildings so the firefighters can analyze the building material and how it would burn if it caught fire.
The fire department’s Exploring program started in 2012 when a kid who lived near the department, Alexander Moore, showed interest in being an explorer to learn how to be a firefighter paramedic. Fire Marshal Jim Finley led the program until Lt. Phan took over three years ago. He is planning for a stronger push on recruitment this fall.