Young adults from around the Inland Empire got a taste of firefighting life at Fort Irwin during the 20th annual Inland Empire Fire Explorers Academy last week.

More than 150 youth ages 14 to 21 spent nearly five days at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin getting hands-on fire fighting training. The youths are members of Fire Explorers, a career exploration program that teaches them discipline, respect and teamwork as well as the fundamentals of what it takes to be a firefighter. More than 30 Fire Explorer posts and fire departments were represented at the academy, which was held for the 11th time at Fort Irwin.

"Fire Explorers is a great learning experience," said Andrew Adams, a Fire Explorer from Post 252 in Big Bear City, Calif., who was chosen from among his peers to act as the academy's public information officer this year. "It teaches you not just about firefighting, but also how to be a better functioning person. And it's also a lot of fun."

Each year's academy focuses on different training areas. This year's focus was on working with hazardous material and conducting firefighting operations in confined areas. Fort Irwin provided the Fire Explorers with larger and more easily accessible facilities for training in those two areas than the explorers' home posts, Adams said.

The Fire Explorers also get an up-close and personal view of life in the military during the academy. They stay in augmentee barracks and eat in Fort Irwin's dining facilities. This year, the explorers received a command briefing from representatives of Fort Irwin's G3 office, which explained the mission of the National Training Center. Many of the Fire Explorers had never before visited a military installation.

"It's awesome being around all the men and women who serve," said Brandon Browne, a freshman at Chaffey College who belongs to Fire Explorers Post 450 in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. "This is my first academy, and it's awesome."

At this year's academy, the Fire Explorers received training from C Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion on conducting medical evacuations. It was a chance for the Fire Explorers to not only gain valuable training in an area they might not otherwise learn about, but also to interact more closely with Soldiers, said John Salvate, vice president of the IEFEA.

"Air ambulances in the civilian world are usually a separate entity, so it's a unique thing for them to see how military air ambulances operate," he said.

Sgt. Adam Bigelow, a flight medic with the 2916th, said he enjoyed training the Fire Explorers.

"They've been great, really receptive," he said. "Any time we can teach young people who are interested in this field, it's a great thing."

Ray Smith, Fort Irwin's fire chief, said the fire department was glad to welcome the Fire Explorers back again this year.

"It's a great way to showcase the military life, and many of them will go on to join the military," he said.