County pays $15K to encourage kids to explore first-responder careers

Enterprise file photo — Saranac Hale Spencer
The Explorer program, like the one in Guilderland, has long been to train youth in police work. Albany County is now expanding that to include other first responders.

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County is expanding its Explorer programs — typically to involve youth in police work — to include firefighting and emergency medical services as well.

The announcement was made at a press conference on Monday where officials said the county legislature will provide $15,000 so that fire and EMS Explorer programs can recruit, transport, and train future first responders.

The initiative is being called Albany County’s Future Heroes and First Responders Explorer Program.

Monday’s event was held at the Shaker Road – Loudonville Fire Department, which has sponsored Explorer Post 475 since 1975 that serves boys and girls ages 14 to 17.

“The members of the post provide countless hours of community service at the fire department including responding to emergency calls and assisting active duty firefighters,” said Steve DeGroff, Explorer Post advisor, in a release from the county. “Many of the post members go on to become active volunteer firefighters and pursue a career in the emergency services field.”

The West Albany Fire Department began an Explorer post in 2001 and has seen more than 50 kids go through the program, with 10 becoming a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic.

“The explorer program provides classroom and hands-on experience for young men and women to understand what it is like to be a first responder …,” said Legislator Joseph O’Brien, a Democrat representing parts of Loudonville and West Albany who advocated for the expanded program. “The explorer program is essential in helping local municipalities in their efforts to hire new first responders.”

Last year, Sheriff Craig Apple told The Enterprise his office had started an Explorers Post several years ago “to bring in young individuals and get them interested in public safety.” His office last year hired a second and third person from that program — a young male and a young female, he said.

The county’s Explorer Post has youth from Albany, Guilderland, Colonie, and the Hilltowns, Apple said, calling it “a great feeder program for our whole department.”

According to the United States Department of Justice, the police Explorer program is an outgrowth of the Boy Scouts of America, open to boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 21.

In 1935, senior Scouts carrying out high-adventure activities and service projects were called Explorers, according to the Boy Scouts of America. In the 1950s, special-interest Explorer posts began to be organized by businesses and professional and trade organizations; girls became eligible for the programs in 1971.

Some local police programs have an Explorer Academy, the department of justice says, which adapts the curriculum of a real police academy to the Explorer youth. Courses provided may be the history of law enforcement, juvenile law and protection, criminal law, criminal investigation, narcotics, criminalistics and forensics, and communication.

Explorer cadets’ duties will vary from program to program, the department of justice says, and may include working in dispatching centers patrol ride-alongs, searches for missing children, finding evidence in major crimes, assisting at disaster scenes, or being used as undercover agents in under-age alcohol and tobacco sting operations.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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