Anaheim Fire & Rescue Explorers recruit candidates who have what it takes


Physical fitness. Leadership. Character

Whether they become firefighters or take another career path, the skills learned by Anaheim Fire & Rescue Explorers will apply for a lifetime.

And if they choose fire service as a career, the Explorers already will have had a feel for what to expect once they enter the academy.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. Michel Bowidowicz talks to potential explorers (left) and cadets (right) during a training session at the North Net Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

In an effort to draw more candidates, AF&R held its first-ever Explorer recruitment event Jan. 2, at the North Net Training Center in Anaheim, where potential explorers were put through a series of tests – both physical and intellectual – to see if they have what it takes to become an explorer.

“We had such a huge outpouring of interest, I had to come up with a way to whittle down the numbers,” said Capt. Michael Bowidowicz, the Explorers’ advisor. “It’s an awesome program for young men and women. It’s an awesome experience for them.”

The Explorers themselves designed the recruitment program, the captain said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. Michel Bowidowicz introduces AF&R firefighters to potential explorers after stopping by the North Net Fire Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

About a dozen candidates performed a hose pull, did pushups to test upper-body strength, performed the wall ball drill to test lower-body strength, andperformed a farmers carry and sandbag carry, and built hose bundles.

AF&R Explorers do the exact same routine before every bi-weekly meeting.

“I just want to replicate different workouts that replicate different things they do,” said explorer Cody Labasan, 20, the AF&R Explorer Post leader and a student in the Fire Technology Program at Santa Ana College.

The candidates also were interviewed by AF&R personnel to give them a feel for what an actual interview would be for a fire academy recruit.

Potential explorer Tyran Duverglas, 16, of Anaheim, runs through physical fitness exercises during a training session.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“It’s really cool seeing high school kids come in and mentoring them and just being a good role model for them so we can influence them for their career in the fire service,” Labasan said. “It’s taught me that later in my career when I become a firefighter, I want to do the same thing and give back to where I started from.”

Explorers train on engine and ladder trucks, learn the proper uses of tools, pull hoses, learn ladder techniques, salvage operations, and wildland firefighting procedures.

Once a year, AF&R Explorers get together with other Explorer posts from Orange, Costa Mesa, and the Orange County Fire Authority to participate in a mini-fire academy for seven days at OCFA headquarters. Each day begins with a 6 a.m. workout.

Potential explorer Brianna Shigo, 17, of Anaheim, drags a hose across the North Net Training Center during a fitness training exercise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Explorers also provide support for a variety of community events and they can do frequent ride-alongs with AF&R stations, giving them a look at the day-to-day lives of firefighters.

“It’s showed me a lot about hard work, dedication, and to always have a good mindset,” Labasan said of his time as an Explorer. “It’s taught me good fundamentals as to what goes on, on the fire ground, how to use all the tools, how to act, be very professional, always be on time …. little things like that I’m very grateful for.”

Explorers must be between 15 and 20 years old, maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, and have permission from their school to participate.

Said Bowidowicz: “I tell them, not everyone is going to be a firefighter. I just want you to be a good human being.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue cadets (yellow jackets) offer mentoring support for potential explorers during a training session.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Riley Villa, 15, of Anaheim Hills, pulls in a fire hose during a fitness training exercise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge