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Camden Fire Department Explorers excel at state competition

Posted: June 17, 2014 5:26 p.m.
Updated: June 18, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Explorer Post 911 is a group of 14 to 18-year olds with an interest in firefighting. Six members of the group went to the annual Explorer competition at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Thursday, June 12. Advisor Abram Johnson of the Camden Fire Department (CFD) said the team made him proud as individuals and as a team.

"It was a smaller group we took this year. The kids worked really hard. We had been practicing for months," Johnson said. "They do monthly training on top of their training for the convention. The state has come a long way. They (Explorers) are able to take some classes through the fire academy so when they’re 18 they have not only the experience of being an Explorer, they actually have some training under their belt."

The competition includes putting on firefighting gear as fast as possible, while still doing it right. Johnson said the Camden group outshined other teams in that contest.

"All six of our Explorers competed in the individual class and we had a four-person team that had their times added together for a team time," Johnson said. "Then we have hose deployment. We had one team in hose deployment and one team in gear donning."

Johnson said Bayleigh Eubanks had the fastest gear donning time as an individual female, 57.6 seconds. Randy Rogers was the fastest male with a time of 46.06 seconds. Price Peebles was the second-fastest male at 56.88 seconds and the team of Eubanks, Rogers, Peebles and Brianna Gainey posted the winning team time of 3 minutes, 52.48 seconds.

CFD Chief John Bowers said getting young people interested in firefighting is vital to the future of the profession.

"Eighty-five percent of all firefighters in this country are volunteer. That’s the way the system has developed and our culture is shifting. A lot of people who used to volunteer, they’re now a lot more limited. There’s a lot of pull on individuals for income and other priorities. In this community and in South Carolina, there’s a big emphasis on trying to recruit folks into the volunteers, which may even lead to a career," Bowers said. "But everyone’s pool for these volunteers is just shrinking up. Kershaw County is devastated, Camden in devastated trying to keep these numbers up. Part of the answer that we’re going for is the recruitment of the young folks. If we don’t get them when they’re young and expose them to the fire service, they tend to drift off and do other things and we lose that opportunity."

Bowers said even if someone doesn’t choose firefighting as a full-time career, the Explorer experience is a good one.

"They still can be a volunteer, so it’s worked out good for us. It’s an avenue to give these Explorers something to do with their time, go out and show their skills and get more recognition throughout the state," he said.

Bowers said training standards have been raised over the years, even for volunteers.

"The fire doesn’t know the difference between a career firefighter or a volunteer, so the train of thought is volunteers have to be trained at least up to the same baseline level as a regular firefighter," he said.

Johnson said of the six Explorers who made the trip only two had competed before.

"We stepped in with, I guess you could say a lot of underclassmen and it was a big crowd for them," he said. "They did amazing."

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