Tolland's Fire Explorer Post 40 is not a group local youths join lightly. There are hours of training, multiple certifications, several meetings each week and a commitment to help out at local events.
But for the seven explorers now participating in the post, the hours and hard work have been well worth it.
"They get a lot out of it," said Public Safety Officer Joe Duval, who oversees the post. "They learn how to grow up very fast sometimes."
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Duval re-energized Explorer Post 40 in 2008, after a quiet period for the group. Duval was an explorer himself in the 1980s, and he wanted to give his son the same opportunity to experience the responsibility and training offered at Explorer Post 40.
"They've had some of the best training over the past four years," Duval said of the three explorers who are seniors in high school.
All of the explorers have gained many practical skills. They are certified in first aid, CPR, blood-borne pathogens training, hazmat awareness and brush firefighting.
But the explorers said that their experiences have taught them many life lessons as well.
"Getting the water for people was eye-opening," said explorer Nikolas Bassett of his time distributing water to Tolland residents during the winter storm. "It was crazy to see how bad some people had it."
The explorers were a constant presence at the EOC, performing a number of essential tasks so certified first responders could focus on their work.
Their volunteer work, including afternoon ride-alongs with the career firefighters after school, has also offered a glimpse into the lives of first responders, should the explorers choose to further their skills into a career or continue to volunteer.
"I've seen what firefighters and their families go through when they leave during the night or go on any type of call," Lt. Troy Colli said.
And they also know that first responders deal with situations that most people only encounter occasionally, if at all.
"They're sometimes put into situations that the everyday person doesn't get to see," Duval said.
Explorer Tyler O'Connell said that he can no longer pass by car accidents without going into first responder mode.
"When you drive by car crashes you'd think what I'd be doing to help instead of just driving by," he said.
Duval added that the take-charge attitude is common throughout the post. He has relinquished most of the control over to the explorers, so that they run their own meetings, training and projects. His son, Joseph Duval Jr., serves as the post captain.
The explorers will be presenting what they've learned and accomplished at the Tolland Fire Explorer Post 40 open house, scheduled for 5:30 p.m., June 6, at the .
The explorers hope to convince more local kids to join the post.
"It's a good experience, and you'll learn a lot of stuff that you'll use in the future," Cpt. Joe Duval Jr. said.
The open house will include a powerpoint presentation and demonstrations, and food and drink will be provided.
Tolland Fire Explorer Post 40 is also run using hand-me-downs from the Tolland Fire Department, as well as donations. Contact the Tolland Fire Department for more information.