HARVEST, Ala. (WHNT) - Firefighters have an important job. They save homes, businesses and lives. Teens in Madison County are getting exposed to the world of firefighting through the Westside Fire Explorer Post 423.
Those two words spark a mad dash inside Harvest Volunteer Fire Station #2. Sixty seconds is all the time the teens have to get into fire suits, as if they were responding to a real fire call. It's one of the many exercises they're exposed to as part of the program.
Harvest Volunteer Firefighter Rick Oelkers leads the group and has inspired his young proteges to the point where they contacted WHNT NEWS 19.
"He really cares about the younger generation," says Explorer Captain Taylor Smith.
Smith is a senior at Sparkman High School and has learned a lot from Oelkers.
"I learned how to handle stress a whole lot better by Rick's example," says Smith.
Everyone agrees Oelkers works hard. In fact, he'd worked and had little sleep when our cameras showed up one Saturday. Even then, he was eager to talk about the Westside Fire Explorers.
"Without the kids, there's no future," explains Oelkers. "Especially in the fire service. Out here, it's all volunteer. We're growing by leaps and bounds. Folks like me are getting kind of old to be doing this. I've been doing it 25 years this year."
In addition to training the next generation of firefighters, Oelkers also stresses the importance of giving back.
"If you think about helping others, the world is going to be better," says Oelkers. "That's what we all have to do and this is just a way to instill it in them in a fun way."
WHNT NEWS 19 decided to have a little fun of our own and reveal the real reason for our visit - to deliver $319 in Pay it Forward cash.
"Thank you," says Oelkers. "We'll put this to good use."