Future firefighters get real-world training at Pelham complex

Published 1:16 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

Flames billowed from a kitchen stove, blanketing the room’s ceiling with a curtain of flames as a team of uniformed firefighters began dousing the area with a concentrated blast of water.

As the flames were extinguished and the smoke cleared, the firefighters congratulated each other as they stepped out of the room and ensured the scene was safe.

Normally, a scene like this would create thousands of dollars in property damage, and would likely demolish a family’s sense of well-being.

However, firefighters from Pelham and several other regional fire departments staged these events Dec. 12 in an effort to better prepare the next generation of emergency responders.

More than 40 members of the Pelham, Montevallo, Mount Olive, Trussville, Helena, Chelsea, Birmingham and Brierfield fire explorers descended on Pelham’s fire training center off Stuart Lane for the Pelham Fire Department’s annual explorer fire training day.

“All of the explorers out here today are between 14 and 19 years old,” said Pelham Battalion Chief Pete Zekoff. “We just try to give the explorers a look at the different firefighting careers that are out there for them.

“Events like this are very important to the industry, because it gives them a taste of what it’s really like to be a firefighter,” Zekoff said. “We teach them that it is all about helping others. We try to take away any of the selfishness they may have and teach them to work together to help other people.”

The training day featured a smoke-filled house replica, a burning vehicle, a blindfolded obstacle course designed to promote teamwork and communication, a tractor trailer designed to mimic a kitchen inferno and other events aimed at simulating real-world firefighting.

“This is my first time out here, and it is realistic,” said Adam Wilkinson, a member of the Mount Olive Fire Explorers. “I definitely want to be a firefighter.”

The event acts as both a recruiting tool and early training for teenagers interested in being professional or volunteer firefighters, Zekoff said.

“We actually have several graduates of the explorer program out here helping us today, so it’s kind of gone full circle for some people,” Zekoff said. “Training like this helps prepare these kids earlier, which makes them better firefighters later.”

Harold Washington, who is training to be with the Birmingham Fire Department, said the explorer program has given him real-world firefighting experience some other rookie firefighters may not have.

“I have been to this training day for two years, and I think it really prepares me for a job as a firefighter,” Washington said. “The stuff out here is realistic.”

Trey Burch, who attended Pelham fire training courses in the past, and was supervising the explorers Dec. 12, agreed with Washington, saying the explorer program has made him a stronger professional firefighter.

“I love being able to help out here, and maybe even share some wisdom with these new guys,” Burch laughed. “Things like this really give the future firefighters insight into what will be expected of them in the future.”