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Explorers show off firefighting skills

LAWRENCEVILLE - It generally takes Ashley Smith an hour to get ready for school, putting on her makeup, trying out different outfits.

On Saturday, the Brookwood sophomore took just 61 seconds to put on an outfit that weighs 30 to 40 pounds, winning the quick dress competition as a fire explorer cadet.

Fire, police and emergency services cadets showcased their skills in competitions and demonstrations as part of Scout Blast at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

"The gloves are the hardest part to get on," said Smith, whose stepfather is a Duluth policeman. "They are the last thing to put on and your hands get really sweaty."

On duty, a typical firefighter needs to be in full gear in less than two minutes, preferably in 90 seconds, said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman.

The Explorer Program, which is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, educates and trains high school students on firefighting, emergency medical practices and police skills, leading to a possible career.

"It gives us a large pool of candidates," said Gwinnett County Police Department officer T.J. Topor, adding that about 10 cadets have become Gwinnett County cops.

Police cadet Sgt. Will Johnson, a Collins Hill High School senior, hopes to follow previous cadets into the Gwinnett department.

"I'm going to go to Gwinnett Tech and study criminal justice - it's a two-year program - then apply to the police academy," she said.

Selina Flynn was at the fairgrounds to cheer on her son Travis, a fire explorer cadet and Shiloh High School junior, as he participated in the hose relay.

"I can't tell which one is my son anymore. They all look the same" in full gear and protective mask, Flynn said, snapping pictures.

"I'm very happy that he took on something that is career oriented, something to lean toward," Flynn said. "He's going to say 'Mom, why did you say that?' He makes good grades, but I just don't see him going to a four-year college."

Smith plans to join the fire department after high school, then go to college while working as a firefighter. She actually had tied with Corey Taylor, a Northview High School freshmen, in the quick dress competition. Both cadets donned their full gear in just 58 seconds, with a final time of 61 seconds, 3 seconds added for an infraction.