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Aspiring firefighters will learn this weekend what the job takes

Ryan Cunningham, Josh McClure, Jacob Noll and Andrew Benson receive instruction from a state fire marshal's office trainer as they prepare to start their competition last weekend. The trainer was impressed with their performance and commented on the importance of conducting a 360 (walkaround) of the structure, which many posts overlooked. The local Explorers will test their skills again this weekend.

Since early December, eight students ages 14-18 have been learning what it takes to be a firefighter. This weekend, they'll see if they actually have what it takes.

The students are members of Farmington Fire Explorer Post 9470. They've been meeting since Dec. 2, 2010. They've done lots of training. They've earned their CPR certification and state First Responder certification. They've learned how to clean a station house and fire trucks. They're able to get into their turnout gear quickly. It's been a pretty labor-intensive few months, for sure.

This weekend, the Explorers will have a chance to use all of those skills - and probably quite a few more - in a 24-hour period.

"We're going to have them work a 24-hour duty shift, where they will be operating exactly as if they were on a full-time fire department," said Farmington fire lieutenant Christopher Matek. "It's not a wrap-up event, but it's a culmination of events where we're putting all the skills they have been learning into one very exciting container."

Matek didn't want to announce just yet exactly what those activities are - firefighters rarely know when they're going to be called out, nor do they usually know what they'll be called to do.

There are some day-to-day tasks he'll admit to. They'll start their day off with a Muster, where the chief officer tells them what is expected of them for the day. The Explorers will have to do some cleaning in their down time. They'll have to plan meals and they'll sleep at Fire Station 1. They'll even do a little extra training between calls.

The Northfield EMS Explorers Post 3000 will join the Farmington Fire Explorers at a few of the scenes. That's deliberate, Matek said, because firefighters and fire/rescue members often work with paramedics on calls.

"We'll not only have an opportunity for our kids to experience what it's like to work in a firehouse, but to work very closely with an EMS service, which is very typical," Matek said.

This training exercise is the first of its kind, Matek said. There are other Explorer posts out there that work with kids, but this is the first time a series of events has been scheduled in a 24-hour period. If everything goes well, Matek plans to increase the complexity of the program for the future.

A growing Post

The enthusiasm of the local Explorers is impressive, Matek said. He started out meeting with them every other week, for a two hours. That didn't last long, because the teen members wanted to learn more, and they wanted to learn it quickly. So, Matek expanded the hours. Explorers now meet weekly for 3 1/2 hours at a time. He also increased the scope of the training the kids received.

Other members of the Farmington Fire Department have jumped on to help with the training. It's becoming something both the local firefighters and the Explorers are pretty excited about.

Some of the students are trying to become officers. They're taking classes through the national fire academy. Over the weekend, a few of them headed to the Minnesota State Fire Explorer Association Conference, where they earned third place in one event while competing against 10 other Explorer posts from around the state, all of which have been around for more than five months.

"That was their first exposure to something like that," Matek said. "They did a really good job overall."

The training this weekend is just an extension of what they've learned to date. Matek plans to continue the Explorers program over the summer and into the next school year. New members are welcome at any time.

"Hopefully the post will also grow so the kids who are here now and go through this will be in leadership roles the next time this kind of thing goes on," Matek said. "This gives them the opportunity to step up and be officers."

For more information, contact Matek at

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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