BFD Burnet Explorers program builds student success


Seven area students participated in the 2016 National Fire & EMS Explorer Conference in Flagstaff, Ariz., and had some great experiences on the way. 



This article was originally printed in the Wednesday, Aug. 24 edition of the Burnet Bulletin and included photos that were listed as having been provided by a member of editorial staff. The photos were in fact contributed by the Burnet Fire Department. 


Seven teenagers traveling across country to take on a national competition as an underdog team – it sounds like the plot of a popular 80s movie, but for the Burnet Fire Explorers, it was a recipe for success and life lessons.

After a cross country trip to compete in first response skills, Burnet Explorers learned more than just how to train for the next time around, said Burnet Fire Department EMS Coordinator Lealand Raiford.

Raiford is the head of the Burnet Fire Department Explorer Post 4700, a group of students that meet weekly to learn first response and life skills vital to those in the industry.

In mid-July, the students took their knowledge and skills to compete in the 2016 National Fire & EMS Explorer Conference in Flagstaff, Ariz.


The Competition

“Three weeks ago we went to Arizona. They absolutely blew us away. The group we took learned so much,” Raiford said.

The competition was the culmination of six months of planning, fundraising and training, and at the end of a 982 mile trip across the desert.

“We traveled 982 miles across the desert in a van with seven high school kids. There was never a dull moment,” Raiford said.

He added that the trip made a significant impact on the kids.

“Some of these kids had never been out of the county let alone the state,” Raiford said.

The students stayed in Flagstaff, Ariz. at North Arizona University and were lodged in the dorm rooms there.

“That was a good experience for them. Two said they wanted to go to college before, and seven said afterwards that they wanted to go,” Raiford said. “That's part of what this is about.”

The Burnet team competed against 21 other teams from across the country, including groups from California, Arizona, Colorado, and Washington.

“We represented Burnet Fire Department, the City of Burnet, and Texas. They were proud to tell people where they were from,” Raiford said.

The three-day competition included 16 events, including eight team events and eight individual events. Teams were tested in CPR, spinal immobilization, hydrant relay, wildland shelter deployment, combat challenge relay, search and rescue, a bunker gear relay, and a written exam.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Kelsey Jolly, a junior at Burnet High School. “We got to see how the other Explorers did drills and we got to compare.”

The team was up against steep competition, Raiford said, including many students that had several years more experience and were physically bigger kids than the Burnet team.

“We weren't sure what we were going to be up against,” he said. “We were a small team up against the big giants. We had some ups and downs.”

But the competition officials tossed the underdogs a well-deserved bone.

“I was approached by the chairman of the conference. He said, 'We've been watching your group. We've been blown away by their class, manners and hard work.' He selected one of our team to speak at the closing ceremony. It was a big deal,” Raiford said.

The honorary speaker was Selena Hernandez.

“She really worked her butt off,” Raiford said. “She showed leadership skills that were amazing.”

A second team member, Jessica Thompson, was selected as Bulldog Award winner, an award given to one exceptional student that was decided by the test proctors.

“They didn't know the Bulldog was the mascot of Burnet,” Raiford said. “The award is based on grit, determination, and never giving up.”

Thompson was the focal point of the “most emotional moment of the trip” when she persevered through the CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test), an exam given to entry level firefighters on paid departments.

“The team walked her through the process and she finished it,” Raiford said.

Overall, Team B, one of two teams comprised of Burnet Explorers, won 2nd place in Hazmat.

“They're ready to build a trophy case for future wins,” Raiford said. “Winning isn't everything. Having the drive and the goal – that's what we're looking for.”

Four of the students that competed in Flagstaff put in 80 hours of training in the last two weeks for the next competition in Tennessee in February, to which Raiford hopes to send four fire explorers and four police explorers.

“They train on their own now,” Raiford said.

The medals and pride weren't the only good things the Explorers took home with them.

“They had a swim night and a dance night so they got to meet a lot of other kids from across the country,” Raiford said. “Their phones kept sounding on the way home. They made a bunch of friends.” 

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