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Unique Scout post offers young adults firefighting training

The Hudson Explorer Post 9516 is sponsored by the Hudson Fire Department and offers young people an inside look at firefighting. The group includes, front, Dylan Saggese (9-year-old son of firefighter Mike Saggese); first row from left, explorers Charles Smith, Colin O’Brien, Matt Larson, Bradley Pettee, Joe Wohlers and Charlie Thompson; back, Hudson Fire Department explorer advisors Steven Hering, Mike Perucca, Mike Saggese and Tom Barthman. Not pictured, explorer Drake Thoemke.

What young adult hasn’t thought about being a firefighter?

A unique scouting program sponsored by the Hudson Fire Department gives young men and women the opportunity to get an up-close and personal look at what it takes to be a firefighter.

The local program is Explorer Post 9516, a branch of the Boy Scouts of America.

The current group of seven includes six young men and one woman. The explorer program is open to young people ages 15 to 21. The program actually was started locally in 2004, but lost some of its steam for a few years. It is now running strong with seven members -- they are always looking for more -- but have capped the number at eight. Firefighter Mike Saggese said that 17 young people have made it through the program during its 10 years in existence.

“We should have a couple of openings this summer,” Saggese said. “One of our current members will age-out when he reached 21 this summer.”

Hudson current members range from ages 15 to 21.

“The program is pretty intense and involves a lot of training,” said Hudson Fire Department member and Scout advisor Tom Barthman. “They participate in firefighter training – they are almost like probationary firefighters.”

He said that after an explorer earns an entry level firefighter certificate, they are allowed to go on certain fire calls.

“They are under supervision at all times, but they perform many valuable tasks at fire scenes,” Barthman said.

Among the tasks are rolling hoses, hydrant connections, supplying equipment, change/fill SCBA bottles, lighting, cleanup at the scene, clean trucks and provide support services in and around the fire station.

“It’s great to have the extra hands,” Barthman said.

Training opportunities include classes at various locations.

“We have had entry level classes taught right here in Hudson,” Barthman said.

When an explorer reaches the age of 18 he or shee will have opportunities to pursue a degree in fire science. Those courses are offered through WITC and Barthman said the fire department will actually pay for the core fire training classes.

Firefighter Saggese is a pilot with United Air and was able to secure a grant from the airline for the local explorer program. A grant of $1,000 was awarded in February.

Saggese said the fund will be used for a variety of explorer things, including uniforms, helmets, gear and training.

The seven members of the explorer post seem to have one thing in common – they are somehow connected to the Hudson Fire Department. That connection is not necessary, of course, but seems to be case in most instances.

Bradley Pettee is the president of the explorer post.

“My dad inspired me,” Pettee said. His father, Shawn Pettee, is member of the Hudson Fire Department. As president of the group, it is Pettee’s job to keep things organized and keep the explorers focused.

Charlie Smith is the oldest member of the group. He will turn 21 in July and will be required to leave the post.

“My dad (Craig Smith) is also on the fire department,” Smith said. Charlie, a 2012 Hudson high School graduate, is not only gearing for a firefighting career, but is also an emergency medical technician (EMT).

Colin O’Brien is the youngest and newest member of the explorer group.

“I’m 15 and a ninth-grader,” O’Brien said. His father Sean O’Brien is also a member of the HFD.

Currently the only female in the group is Charlie Thompson. She said she is a family friend of Hudson Fire Department member Jeff Dabruzzi.

“He’s kind of like an uncle,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “We call him Uncle Jeff.”

Joe Wohlers also has a department connection.

“My dad John (Wohlers) is on the Hudson Fire Department,” he said.

Matt Larson has a different sort of connection to the department.

“I was inspired by my uncle Craig Wolff,” Larson said. Wolff was a firefighter who died of leukemia at the age of 36 in 2005 after serving 15 years on the HFD. He was the 2005 firefighter of the year.

Aside from their fire training, the explorers are currently preparing for competition at the Minnesota State Fair. Each year, similar posts in Minnesota and western Wisconsin participate in Governor’s Fire Prevention Day competition. The members of the local explorer post have a business meeting the first Wednesday of each month. For more information about the Hudson explorer post, call the Hudson Fire Department at (715) 386-5861.

Doug Stohlberg

Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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