The Elgin Fire Department is starting a Fire Explorer program with the hope of inspiring young people to become firefighters while adding diversity to its ranks.
The program, open to youth 14 to 20 years old, is expected to kick off in early fall, said Elgin firefighter George Steiner, who spearheaded the initiative.
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The curriculum will mirror much of the fire academy training required for entry-level firefighters, albeit at a much slower pace, Steiner said.
The program will meet twice a month, likely on Wednesdays during the school year and on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer, he said.
Right off the bat, Explorers will learn CPR and First Aid; other topics will include fire behavior, extrication, ladders, fire hoses, water behavior, forcible entry, ventilation and rescue, Steiner said.
"We want them to get an idea of what the fire service has to offer," he said. "Hopefully, they'll become the future of Elgin firefighting."
The program is estimated to cost about $15,000 per year, including materials, helmets and uniforms, he said.
Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said the cost will be covered partially by the department's public education budget, and the rest hopefully by city money set aside for diversity initiatives.
"The program was probably long overdue," Fahy said. "If you're an Elgin student and you wanted to learn about the fire service, you had to join the South Elgin Fire Explorer program.
The program will combine on- and off-duty officers and yield a minimal amount of overtime, Fahy said.
In the future, the program will fundraise and seek grant money, Steiner said.
The fire department wants to reach out to all segments of Elgin's diverse population, Steiner said.
"There are kids that don't even know this is even an option, because it's not even talked about in their house," he said.
Elgin firefighter Mike Przybylski agreed.
"Because Elgin has a very diverse population, we want to get a diverse group of kids with a lot of different backgrounds," he said.
Education will come above everything else, as the kids will be required to maintain a C or better average in school, Przybylski said.
"We want to stay in contact with their instructors or teachers in high school and make sure that the quality of their work isn't dropping. We only want to make a positive impact."
Much of the new program is modeled upon Elgin's long-standing Police Explorer program and the Aurora Fire Explorer program, created in 2002.
Firefighter Carl DeCarlo, who's also the fire science instructional coordinator at Elgin Community College, has been instrumental in putting together the new Elgin program, Przybylski said.
In the future, Explorers might be eligible to get an EMT-Basic license through ECC upon completion of the program, he said.
As for why he wanted to start the Fire Explorer program, Steiner said it's simply because it's a positive thing for Elgin.
"We thought it be something good for the children of our community to be involved in the fire service, and for us to be role models for them."
The first class will consist of 20 Explorers. Candidates will have to pass a basic physical test and go through an interview process.
There will be a Fire Explorer open house and orientation from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 12, at Fire Station No. 2, 650 Big Timber Drive, Elgin. For details, call (847) 931-6181 or (847) 931-6177, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.