Participants Lucas Calandro, 17, of Livonia, Emily Diller, 17, of Wixom and Abbas Ayoub, 20, of Dearborn Heights were supervised by Northville firefighters Austin Conway and Tyler Vermeesch and advisor Shari Allen.
Staged fire and rescue scenarios at the five-day camp included fighting a fire on the fourth floor of a high-rise building; using the jaws of life and ropes to extract a person from a car crash; extinguishing a single-family house fire; and searching the second floor of a house on fire using a thermal imaging camera for people who may be alive. The victims in these scenarios were dummies but it felt like real-life episodes for those who were challenged with putting out fires and practicing techniques to save lives.
A tricky scenario was the “trapped and disoriented fire fighter rescue” where the Explorers crawled through a smoky passageway and their gear got entangled on ropes and wires. They had to free their gear and move on to get to the fire.
“These scenarios help build confidence and endurance, and teach good decision-making, among other skills and traits,” said Allen. “This school is phenomenal. The best researchers in the country teach fire dynamics - newer ways to fight fire – at this research institute.”
“Kids in both the basic and advanced program see more fire in one week than a small town fire department sees in a year,” said Conway. “Being an advisor and watching them go through the training is just as good for us as it is for them.”
Twelve kids, ages 14 to 20, are currently in Northville’s Explorer program, which meets twice a month and holds monthly drills. It is chartered through Learning-for-Life’s Explorer program (a division of Boy Scouts of America) and is funded entirely by grants and donations. This is the ninth year the Fire Department has taken Explorers to the IFSI program.
“The kids were so excited about learning. They got to practice what they were taught at biweekly trainings at the fire house. It was clicking for them,” said Conway.
The Explorer program offers hands-on experience throughout the year, as kids help conduct fire drills at Allen Terrace, the city’s senior housing facility; assist at festivals; play victim for mock disaster drills and help other community groups.
About 80 percent of the Explorers who attend the Northville program pursue a career as a firefighter or in a related capacity. “It is a window into how the fire service operates,” said Conway. “It helps prepare kids for what they will learn when they attend the Fire Academy.”
Many participants in the Explorer program begin their Fire and EMS careers with the City of Northville Fire Department, and go from there to hold good positions in fire departments across the country. They also serve as advisors and mentors, sharing their skills and knowledge locally and nationally. Conway and Allen like to keep in touch with graduates of the program, whose firefighting careers have taken them to jobs at Metro Airport, throughout Michigan and across the country. Whenever they come back to town, they often stop at the fire station to share stories about their new adventures and reminisce, Conway said.
There were two fun stops en route for the kids who rode in Allen’s vehicle. They went for a swim in Lake Michigan and stopped at the Fire Museum in Kankakee, Ill. Allen has been an advisor with the program since it started in 1994, which was established by her father, Jim Allen, former fire chief for the City of Northville.