WILLMAR -- Benjamin Carlson, 14, of Willmar has been interested in firefighting for as long as he can remember.
"I've always wanted to become a firefighter,'' he said. "My dad bought me a police scanner two or three years ago, so I bike over to the fire house whenever they get a call.''
Carlson, who has participated in the fire department's story time program for a number of years, last month talked to Willmar Fire Chief Marv Calvin about becoming more involved in the fire department.
The conversation led Calvin and the fire department to join forces with the Exploring program to offer an opportunity to young people to learn more about a career in firefighting and emergency services.
Exploring is the career education program for both young men and women ages 14 through 20. The Exploring program offers career education in many areas. One of those areas is centered on careers in fire and emergency services.
Young people interested in firefighting and emergency services, and their parents, are invited to an informational meeting to organize a Fire Service Explorers Post. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Willmar Fire Station. The meeting is open to all young people in and around the Willmar area, said Calvin.
Carlson suggested that the fire department sponsor an Explorer post and he researched the program's bylaws, rules, fees and competitions.
Calvin said one way to talk with young people about a career in firefighting and emergency medical services is to get them involved in an organized program such as Exploring, said Calvin. He said Rice Hospital and some businesses are also involved with the program and sponsor Explorer posts.
The Explorer post being sponsored by the Willmar Fire Department would be specific to firefighting and emergency services, according to Calvin.
"It's a way that the fire department can give back to a group of individuals that have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in emergency services,'' he said.
Frank Hanson, a fire department deputy chief, is Willmar post coordinator. Calvin said four Willmar firefighters stepped up right away to be adult leaders.
The Explorers would meet once a month. They will set up their own rules but the fire department will provide direction on objectives. Explorers might visit fire schools, fire trade shows and musters, attend community presentations, and participate in community disaster programs, first aid skill competitions, and fire competitions.
Calvin said competitions on the local, state and national levels give Explorers a chance to hone their skills and see what other posts are doing. Calvin has evaluated competitions "and it's very encouraging to see these young adults going through that process of getting their air pack on and getting their gear on.''
Calvin said Explorers are not allowed to enter a burning building, either in training or in response to a live fire.
He said an individual must be 18 years to join a fire department. If an Explorer joins a department, the individual can no longer be an Explorer.
Calvin is looking forward to starting the program in January. "We're going to move this pretty fast,'' he said. "It is a recruiting tool for us, without a doubt.''
Carlson is also excited about the program. He said the Explorers "will have four really, really great guys'' helping the post. Carlson hopes to be one of the main student leaders.
"It's my first step to actually becoming a firefighter, which is my dream job,'' he said.