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Explorers program kicks off school year with new twist

Police Explorers02
Members of the Police Explorers Program at Big Cypress Reservation participate Sept. 9 with Fire Rescue and Seminole Police Department personnel at the first meeting of the year.

Something newfangled took children and teens by surprise during the first Police Explorers Program meetings of the school year at Big Cypress, Brighton, Fort Pierce, Immokalee, Hollywood and Tampa reservations.

“We are evolving,” said Seminole Police Department Officer Michele Harbin at the Sept. 9 meeting at Big Cypress Community Center. “And we are incorporating all of Public Safety into the program.”

Harbin and SPD Sgt. Colleen Hardin, who supervises the program on all reservations, then introduced Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue Department Lt. Roberto Vega and firefighter-paramedic Steve Pagan. No longer will Fire Rescue Department personnel be present merely to respond to an unlikely emergency, she said.

The program that for decades gave youth an exciting inside peek into the world of police work is now integrating fire rescue. Tribalwide, SPD and Fire Rescue personnel work under the umbrella of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Public Safety Office.

“We’re going to bring fire hoses out; you’ll be able to try on fire gear; and we’ll teach you about all kinds of jobs in the Seminole Fire Rescue Department,” Vega told the children.

Vega said he and Pagan will also help the Explorers draw exit maps in case of fire at their homes and get basic knowledge about a slew of other lifesaving measures.

“Will we get to spray people with the fire hose?” asked Riley Hill, 8. “I just want to wet someone with the fire hose.”

Vega promised that he, and only he, can be sprayed – a little bit – maybe.

Last year about 150 kids ages 6 to 19 participated in the Police Explorers Program tribalwide. The organization spotlights a specific topic, such as crime scene investigation or traffic stops, two evenings per month. Typically, the first meeting teaches the basics of the topic. The second meeting puts kids in hands-on situations to practice what they learned.

Hardin said the Police Explorers’ dual mission with the Fire Rescue Department is geared to inspire more youth into public safety service.

“This year kids will get one side from police and the other side from fire rescue,” Hardin said. “When a 911 call comes in, like for a car crash, whoever arrives first knows what to do first. After that, police and fire have a constant correlation but different jobs.”

The first exercise of the year featured fingerprinting. On one hand, the children learned how fingerprints are obtained from an individual. On the other hand, they supplied their fingerprints to a permanent record in case they are needed for identification later.

Harbin, who is the Explorers adviser for Big Cypress and Naples, said members learn and have fun at the same time. Some of the coolest activities include ATV driving training, water safety and an annual field trip to Washington, D.C.

Fundraising fun happens year-round. Members shouted out ideas: bake sales, face painting, raffles, lunch sales, car washes. Active members will earn coins to carry in their pockets to prove that they are members in high regard among important public safety employees.

“The coins are very, very rare,” Harbin said. “The Chief (of Police William Latchford) has one and I have two. I carry them with me all the time.”

Hardin already deems the expanded Explorers club as “great.”

“We want to open the door for any child or youth,” Hardin said. “If they are even slightly interested in careers to serve and protect then they can be drawn in and welcomed.”