Fighting fire is a dangerous job and certainly no place for kids. Or is it? The Holliston Fire Department certainly welcomes adolescents into the profession with their Fire Explorer program.
“Explorer” programs exist all across the country and encompass a wide range of career paths and skill sets. According to local Fire Chief, Michael Cassidy, Explorer programs exists in varieties from firefighter, as in our town, to park ranger. The idea, is to involve interested kids in potential career paths, giving them important and inside knowledge about what they can “explore” for careers.
Holliston’s chartered branch began exactly this way.
“It actually came about because we had a son of a firefighter who had heard of the explorers and wanted to be more involved,” said Chief Cassidy. That was back in 1995. Since then, many of Holliston’s Fire Service Explorers have gone on to work at several full-time departments, such as Franklin, Bellingham, and Needham. Past explorers have also moved on to Nashua Fire Rescue in Nashua, NH, and Massport Fire at Logan Airport. Not to mention, several of Holliston’s own firefighters are a product of the local Explorers.
But what can the Holliston Explorers do? What does it mean to be an Explorer?
Well, it’s a lot like being a firefighter.
“The training for Explorers is similar to firefighters,” said Chief Cassidy. In Holliston, Explorers attend monthly meetings and class sessions both in and out of the field.
Explorers have the opportunity to visit any working fire in Holliston. Mostly, it is their job to make sure the emergency service workers have all the tools they need to do their jobs, carrying air supply to and from different rigs and helping them with air bottle refills.
There are, of course, limitations. Because many Explorers are still not adults, safety and precaution often define what the kids can and cannot do. For example, according to Chief Cassidy, local explorers will not drive the firetrucks, and won’t go into a fire. They can’t get anywhere nearer than 100 ft. of open flames.
Even within the Explorers there is a variety of interest level and involvement.
“It depends on their individual interest as well as age,” said Chief Cassidy. And, of course, each Explorer’s mobility and involvement can increase once they have their driver’s license.
Everything comes down to very specific rules to ensure the safety of everybody involved, and, while Chief Cassidy is the chartered head of the branch, Firefighter Scott DeGanne is the hands on leader of the group.
Holliston Firefighter for 23 years, DeGanne began instructing Explorers when he had been at Holliston Fire Department for only a couple of years.
“Chief asked if I would be interested,” said DeGanne, and since then, many of the Explorers who trained under him have gone on to do great things in the fire service.
Currently, there are only a handful of Explorers, amongst them are Tyla Doolin and Derick Valovcin.
Doolin has been an Explorer for about a year. For her, it’s all about discovering the skills required to be a firefighter.
“I like learning about how to do everything,” said Doolin.
For three year Explorer Valovcin, it’s about helping people.
“I joined because I wanted to help people. I was a boy scout; I’ve been doing it my whole life,” said Valovcin. Many of his relatives have been involved in the Holliston Fire Department, including his brother, Dan Valovcin, a firefighter and paramedic.
But what do these young firefighters plan for their futures? One day, Doolin hopes to be a firefighter or a paramedic. Valovcin sees a bit of a different direction.
“Maybe I would become an EMT,” said Valovcin, “I don’t know if I want to continue being a firefighter, or if I would become a first responder at a state park.”
Working fire sites are dangerous and stressful places for all those involved, and, at first, it caused tensions between the full-fledged firefighters, and the explorers.
“Early on there were some firefighters who were resistant because they didn’t want kids getting in the way,” said Chief Cassidy. Eventually though, the Explorers “proved themselves invaluable.” At an active fire, explorers handle equipment and move tools from truck to truck and assisting fire personnel.
Over the years, DeGanne hasn’t had many internal problems either. “Most kids listen well, follow directions and complete them as asked,” said DeGanne. However, potential Explorers must be ready to take a back seat. According to DeGanne, the department does follow some military standards, like a chain of command.
There is a lot to be gained by the explorer looking for a future in firefighting. According to DeGanne, knowing the “basics of firefighting,” and the intricacies of how a department functions, gives Fire Explorers a “leg up” in a potential future job at a fire department.
“It helps students explore a potential career path,” said Cassidy. Those who find that they really are interested in firefighting, “were able to jump right in at an early age.”
According to Cassidy, applicants fill out a couple pages of questions, and new explorers are chosen based on where they live (preference given to kids who live in Holliston), and how involved they’ve been in public safety or scouting organizations.
Who should join? “Anybody who wants to think about being a firefighter or helping people,” said Valovcin, “It’s a great way to find out what you’re made of.”