"We're basically looking for kids who have to at least have a C average in school or above, no discipline problems, whether it be at home or at school. We're basically looking for good kids," said Lt. Mike Taylor. "We bring them in to learn different things about fire fighting, the fire aspect, but it's also to work within the community."
Taylor explained the program not only provides youth with knowledge in the field of fire fighting, but also allows for the young people to have community service on their resume. He said it also promotes character development.
"We're trying to build them up at the most important part of their life -- being a teenager -- trying to learn leadership skills, being positive, just wanting them to be an important part of the community as good people," Taylor said.
Those in the program learn the ropes at the city's training center as well as at the three stations. In January, the program will put its lessons and training to the test at the annual Explorer competition held in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
"What we do is we'll meet twice a month at Fire Station 1 from 6 to 8 o'clock. In the summertime I will change those hours to make them a little bit earlier because they're not in school and maybe we'll meet at 4 or 5 [o'clock] for a couple of hours," Taylor said. "Any time that they have homework or anything like that, they have to show me their report card every time they get it because the main thing is your education and doing your school work."
Before the competition, however, those enrolled are getting hands-on experience working in the field.
"They do everything from they get two uniforms, a class A and a class B. Class B being more for a work related uniform for cap, boots," Taylor said. "You may see them for things like a car show manning parking or at the road blocks.
"We just do different things around the community, helping out around the community and at the same time they're doing different fire-related training some of what the guys do in a little bit more relaxed manner."
Taylor said he wants to see the program expand and allow participants to become more involved in the action.
"We eventually, as the program grows, hope they can ride to different low-level fire scenes as maybe assistants to the firefighters. In other words, they're gonna be rolling hoses up to maybe taking the [firefighters] water, things like that," Taylor said. "We would like to get them in that type of capacity and that's what we're working on.
"Of course we have to get all the logistics worked out with the insurance but that's what we're shooting for and the kids really like that."
He said while some enrolled move forward with fire fighting and might choose it as a career path, the intent of the program is to provide life experience for those involved.
"Our job is to just make sure they're educated and they learn a lot of what's going on around them, but with them being the age they are we're not gonna put them in any dangerous situations," Taylor said. "We've had two people, one kid got a job at Cobb County Fire Department and I think we just recently hired one in our department that came through the program.
"Just because you come through the program doesn't mean you're gonna get hired. Through us you still have to go through the whole process that's in hiring, the selection process, but coming through our program probably helps your chances and the good thing about it is most fire departments like kids to come through explorer programs, so that's why it's good to go to other departments and see if you can get hired there."
Upcoming Woodland High School freshman and Explorer Dustin Williamson said he learned about the program through a chance encounter while out with his mother paying a bill at city hall then stopping by Fire Station 1.
"I've always loved seeing a fire truck go by, I love watching an ambulance go by," Williamson said. "... I've learned a lot of responsibility and [the Explorer program] gets me to make better grades in school so I can stay in it.
"This, to me, is the career I'm chasing for and it has helped me realize you don't need a video game to go out and do something fun, we'll go to [Tellus Science Museum] and help out there or go to a fire training house. It's hard work and it's taught me a lot of responsibility and is getting me ready for what I have coming -- instead of just sitting at home I've got more important stuff to do like helping people."
Saylor White, a 16-year-old Cass High School student, is the sole female in the eight-person group.
"They're like my little brothers -- I love them to death," she said of the younger Explorers. "I've loved how I've actually been able to wear turnout gear and be able to meet the different firefighters and get to know them somewhat personally rather than just as a local firefighter."
-- Amanda Ryker contributed to this article.