Area youth getting early look at firefighting

Explorer Jake Ehlers, right, works with Fort Madison firefighter Clint Harland in changing out an oxygen tank Sunday night during a regular Fort Madison Fire Explorers meeting at the Fort Madison firestation. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – Some area youth are taking “I wanna be a fireman when I grow up” to whole new level.

As part of the Boy Scouts of America Explorer program, five area boys are getting monthly hands-on exposure to some of the day-to-day work done by Fort Madison firefighters.

The program started late in 2018 as a way to give youth some early exposure to a career in firefighting.

Firefighter Clint Harland helps Chandler Fullenkamp hook up an oxygen mask as part of a session with Fort Madison Fire Explorers Sunday night at the Fort Madison Fire Station. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

Mike Ehlers, who’s leading the program, said the program was aimed at giving kids the hands-on experience as just another option to the college track.

“It’s in conjunction with the Boy Scouts and I think they can do this from 5th grade through high school,” Ehlers said. “After that, I think they can do a senior program.”

Chad Hannum, a lieutenant on the fire department, said at that level, explorers would get bunker gear and could do ride alongs.

On Sunday, firefighter Clint Harland gave the explorers an hour-long demonstration on SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) usage, which is gearing up with the oxygen tanks and all the security features that come with them.

Each youth had a chance to pickup the SCBA packs, strap on the gear, and then pull on the protective masks and hook up the oxygen. They also got to see how the indicators work, the alarms, and how to shake off a 30-second  PASS alarm (Personal Alert Safety System) that goes off if a firefighter hasn’t moved for 30 seconds.

“Basically if you don’t move for 30 seconds, what that’s for is if a firefighter goes down and we have to go in and get ’em, sometimes we won’t be able to see because the smoke, so we need to hear that to find them,” Harland told the group.

Other alarms included a low air alarm which tells firefighters their air tank is getting low and they need to leave the building or their station and get a recharged tank.

The group also got to experience what it was like to “gear up” while in the truck, the way professional firefighters will on the way to a scene.

Sunday night’s program was the third of the year. The group meets on the second Sunday of every month for an hour from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Ehlers said the program is a reboot from previous Explorer programs, but with the help of area Boy Scout leader Heather Huebner and some volunteers including his wife, Renee, the group got the program going again.

“We started all this from scratch,” Ehlers said. “But I’m so impressed with these firefighters, not knowing what we were gonna get out of this. It’s amazing the hands-on these guys are getting. Last month they had saws out and were cutting things and they were showing the kids how to use those.”

The hour-long meetings with the firefighters began in January. Ehlers said the shift firefighters put cones in the parking lot and let the kids not just hold the hoses, but showed them how to direct streams to move the cones around the parking lot.

He also said the kids have been lucky in that no calls have come in during the explorer sessions with the shifts.

“If a call comes in, they have to go. So we’ve been pretty lucky to this point. But then again, it might be interesting for the kids to see them in action. If they get called to a scene, we could pile in my truck and head out and watch and let them see first-hand.”

Ehlers said cost of the program is $50, but $40 of it goes to the insurance through the Boy Scout program to cover the explorers if they were to hit their head on something or fall.

But he said the group is considering some fundraising ideas. He said he’d like to see the program expand to 10 or 15 in the future and he doesn’t want the cost to be a factor in a youth not being able to join.

Those interested in joining the Explorers are encouraged to reach out to Huebner who is the Eagle Valley District Senior Executive at 217-224-0204 ext. 119 or by email at

Chaz Fullenkamp slings an SCBA pack over his shoulders Sunday night at the Fort Madison Fire Station as part of the new Fort Madison Fire Explorers program in conjunction with the area Boy Scouts of America. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

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