Building a fear factory

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 19, 2002

Prepare to be scared, the Albert Lea Fire Explorers warn.

The Fire Explorers have been building their second annual haunted house since the end of September. The bigger building this year will hold their thrills and chills at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds Oct. 25, 26 and 31, from 6-9 p.m.

“Last year we had 20 turns and this year we have 30 turns,” firefighter Scott Hanna, one of the group’s advisors, said of the indoor maze in the green horse barn north of the grandstand. “We’re hoping to make this bigger and better every year.”

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Hanna and the Albert Lea Fire Department’s Green Shift, including Dave Moen and Lee DeVries, as well as Greg Moen, have taken over advisory roles for the Fire Explorers after Eric Anderson and Brad Witte took firefighting positions in other communities.

“This is our one big fund-raiser of the year, and we can’t believe the willingness of people to help out a group of kids,” Hanna said of the support from the community. “Anybody we had as sponsors last year agreed right away to be sponsors again this year.&uot;

The firefighters spent three days building panels for the maze to add stability to it. “The kids have been out there every night,” he said.

Last year, the firefighters took some of the Fire Explorers to the Twin Cities to Spooky World to get ideas. This year, they went to the Trail of Terror. “They’re charging $17 per person there,” Hanna said. “Ours is better.”

The Fire Explorers are charging $3 per person, and children 5 and under will be admitted free. People should enter the fairgrounds from the north entrance. The idea is to make it a fun night of family entertainment, Hanna said.

There will be places to wait inside if the weather is bad, as well as a bonfire, a place to have photos taken, and concessions. The horse barn which held the haunted house last year will hold a hay and straw maze for the younger children this year. There will also be a supervised area where parents can leave young children who may be afraid to go in the haunted house; they must, however, leave a photo ID.

“We had a great turnout last year, but we’re hoping to double our numbers this year,” Hanna said, adding that he believes people will like the fact that they can make choices in a number of turns in the haunted house, and it is handicap-accessible.

“It’s very much a family-oriented gathering,” he said. “We’re providing a community service — some safe family entertainment — for the evening.”

A number of Fire Explorer parents have volunteered to help out, as well as other firefighters and volunteers.

“We’ve always got people leaving ideas on how we can scare people on our desks,” Hanna added.

The Fire Explorers, currently at 14 members, have two regular meetings per month. Membership in the group is open to those 14 to 21 years of age. They go over Firefighter I training books, do outdoor training in nice weather, and get to see controlled burns up close, both before and after the fire.

At the annual open house for Fire Prevention Week, the Fire Explorers ran the thermal imager as well as helped young visitors spray the fire hose. “We give them as much exposure to the fire service as possible. We want them to see the value of helping in the community any way they can,” Hanna said.

They’ve gotten CPR training, done a class on forcible entry and even rescues on the ice. “Pretty much anything we do, we’ll have the kids do, as long as it’s safe,” Hanna said. They can also ride along with the firefighters. “That ranges anywhere from a couple hours to 14 hours,” Hanna said. “When they’re riding along, they do what we do. We have a couple who are professional hydrant painters.”

When there is a fire call, they must stay on the truck until they are told by the officer in charge they can get off. “It’s about discipline too,” Hanna said.

The firefighters themselves believe it’s a great program. “It’s such a great thing for the kids, the department and the community,” Hanna said.

In the group’s first nine months of existence last year, over 2,000 hours of service were logged by the 16 kids who were members. That was the largest number of hours in the state, Hanna said.

“And their comment was that they wanted to do more,” he said.

The best part of it all is the fact that if it weren’t for Fire Explorers, many of these kids wouldn’t be together. “We’ve got kids in sports and music and different social groups away from here. It’s really exciting, and it’s worth every minute of it,” Hanna said.