The Oviedo Fire Explorer Program gives future first responders a front-row seat – sometimes quite literally – to the work of our community’s heroes
Sixteen-year-old Laila Robles hopes to be a paramedic someday. At 14, Chase Prather already knows he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a firefighter. Both teens are still attending Oviedo High School, but the City of Oviedo recognizes such aspirations at an early age and provides the training and experience to help their dreams become realities.
Whether the vision is to someday serve the public as a firefighter or an EMT, for those career seekers between the ages of 14 and 21, the Oviedo Fire Explorer Program offers the opportunity to learn about these trades firsthand while gaining valuable experience in the field.
Established and operated locally by the City of Oviedo Fire Rescue Department since 1999, the Fire Explorer Program teaches young men and women the ins and outs of being a first responder. Lessons come from skilled, veteran firefighters, led by 17-year veteran Jason Etayo, who participated in the Orlando Explorer Program when he was growing up.
“All of these kids have shown some interest in becoming a firefighter or an EMT,” says Jason, who serves as chief advisor to the Fire Explorers. His female counterpart is firefighter Amanda Bauman.
Oviedo Explorers meet once a month for two hours at adjoining fire stations 44 and 46 on South Central Avenue. While there is no fee to participate, recruits are required to have their physician’s permission following a physical. There is considerable outdoor training at each meeting, followed by a segment of classroom instruction.
Among the hands-on training exercises Explorers conduct are rolling and storing firehoses and advancing charged hose lines with streams that produce up to 200 gallons of water per minute.
Jason says the program is limited to 20 Explorers at a time. Explorers must maintain a C average in school and may remain with the course until they age out. And while most recruits are high-school students, two 21-year-olds, including David Girlado, are currently finishing out the program, actively seeking employment. David has been an Explorer for more than two years in his quest to become a first responder.
“I wanted to train as a firefighter,” says David, who is now certified as a firefighter and an EMT. “This program is great for anyone.”
The Fire Explorer Program has its roots in the Boy Scouts of America, and Jason says the immersion program is actively seeking new recruits. He notes many of the current firefighters in Oviedo are former Explorers.
Laila, a junior at Oviedo High School, is the only female currently in the group, although the program does attract its fair share of women.
“I wanted to learn more about safety and procedures,” says Laila, who hopes to be a paramedic or an EMT. “I can gain more experience this way. I really enjoy it.”
The Explorer Program takes place in an active firehouse, and all firefighters and emergency services personnel on duty pitch in to help mentor and train the Explorers under the watch of Jason and Amanda.
Training in a working firehouse also means a call could come in at any time. Then it’s time to ride. Explorers who have proven their commitment to the program are invited to ride along with Oviedo Fire Rescue Department personnel when a call comes into the station.
“The ride-alongs allow you to get a feel for what it is like to be a first responder in real life,” notes David.
“The kids love to ride with us,” says Jason, “but if the accident or fire is too large, they need to remain in the truck. We don’t want someone to ask them to do something or have them get hurt.”
Jason says the Explorers are not shielded, however, from the realities of being a first responder.
“I sit down with the parents beforehand and tell them their kid may see some pretty awful images,” he says.
Lieutenant Raul Nin, a 15-year veteran with the Oviedo Fire Rescue Department, says the program allows him to observe an Explorer’s work ethic and determine whether he or she is cut out for this type of career. Being an Explorer also looks pretty good on their résumé.
“When we are hiring, if I see on their application they were an Explorer, they have a leg up,” Raul says.
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