Weston’s revived fire explorers program heats up

WF P1 Explorers2 8-11

From left, leader of the Weston Fire Explorers Mark Unangst , Ryan Unangst, Toby Squance, Kerin Gorrasi, Dan McGuire, and Joe McGuire.

Weston firefighter Mark Unangst wants to make sure Weston is safe for generations to come.

Unangst is taking the helm of the “Fire and Emergency Services Exploring” program that teaches young adults, aged 14-20, the in’s-and-out’s of Weston’s public safety services in hopes to get them involved on a deeper level in the future.

“The program focuses on on all aspects of emergency services in town,” said Unangst. “We’re dividing it up with about 40% of the time dedicated to fire services, 30% of the time with emergency medical services (EMS) and 30% dedicated to law enforcement.”

Unangst was the recipient of the The Chief’s and President’s Award at the annual fire department dinner in June. The award is given to a member that goes above and beyond regular duties as a member of the department.

Part of the reason he received the award was his initiative in restarting the Explorers program, which dates back 20 years in town and was initially spearheaded by current Weston Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) chief John Pokorny.

“Both Chief Pokorny and (Weston EMS) Chief (Jon) Weingarten have fully supported this program,” said Unangst. “Their commitment to this is really invaluable. They have essentially told me whatever I need to make the program work, I can have.”

Unangst said the program will have aspects that are similar to Firefighter 1, a class that all prospective firefighters must take to become certified.

The fire aspect of the program will include basic fire safety. Unangst will go over aspects of  firefighter’s uniform like their personal protective equipment and air lines.

The program will cover hose line safety, basic pump operations, tanker procedures and rescue and extraction procedures.

Additionally, Unangst said he will cover outdoor and woodland rescue, which is especially important in a place like Weston that has hiking trails and heavily wooded areas throughout town.

“We’re going to do co-EMS programs,” said Unangst. “I plan on teaching the explorers how to work together with EMS at an accident.”

Unangst said some of Weston’s emergency medical technicians (EMT) have volunteered to help teach the explorers about EMS protocol.

Explorers will become familiar with the ambulances and where things are located on each vehicle. Unangst said they will also learn what to do at specific types of accident and emergency scenes from an EMS point of view.

“It’s important to emphasize how to assess a medical emergency and to teach them how to move people safely and efficiently.”

Unangst said he’s working on developing a more thorough law-enforcement aspect of the program with Weston police officer and fire department member Jason Greenfield.

“The law enforcement part of the program will be more lecture and anecdotal-based,” said Unangst. “We’re going to look at how police officers assess the needs of an incident and the elements of what an officer goes through with an investigation.”

Hands-on

Unangst wants to set up basic drills for the explorers to get their hands on the equipment that are used in Weston’s emergency services.

“There won’t be a ton of book training, we’re going to be doing a lot of hands-on things,” he said.

“We won’t do anything that isn’t safe for 14-16 year olds,” said Unangst. “We will definitely do a ‘blackout’ drill where the explorers will have to follow hose lines entangled with other hose lines in the dark. It is used to simulate how to get out of a situation where you can’t see, you want to follow the hose.”

Unangst said the explorers will do drills where they break down mock walls to simulate how to move from room to room when they’re in a burning house.

Additionally, the explorers will learn how to put on equipment properly and how to put up a ladder correctly.

“There’s a very specific level of detail in removing a ladder, carrying it and putting it up safely,” said Unangst.

Currently the Explorer program has 15 members in it, most around the ages of 14 and 15. Unangst hopes to get between 20 and 30 total members, but would never turn down anyone if the numbers climbed higher.

He plans to begin recruiting more members once school starts and hopes to work with both the high school and middle school to get the word out about the program.

The explorers will hold meetings monthly, but Unangst wants to ensure that participants are invited to meetings at the fire department that are appropriate for them to attend.

The Explorer program has a $2,500 line-item in the fire department budget, but Unangst anticipates setting up car washes and other fundraisers to help further fund the program.

He plans to use additional funds to take the explorers on field trips like the New York City Fire Museum.

Unangst anticipates that the Explorer program will get young adults involved with the department at an earlier age and will eventually lead many of them on the path of joining Weston fire or EMS.

“It’s a perfect launchpad to join the department,” he said.

At 16, Weston residents can join the fire department as a junior firefighter and at 18 they are eligible to become full-fledged members of the department.

Unangst said past iterations of the Explorer program have yielded significant success stories for young adults in town.

“A few years back an explorer went through the program then became a junior firefighter and then took firefighter 1 to become a certified firefighter,” Unangst said. “When he got to college, he became a lieutenant in the school’s fire department and now he runs a station himself. It’s a real testament to what the program can do.”

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