By Tara Bitzan
Sisters Jaylen and Kelby Olson-Rodel are the type of strong-willed women who, if told they can’t do something, will say “watch me!”
The competitive, energetic girls were both key members of their high school swimming, basketball and track teams.
Kelby, 17, just completed her junior year at Alexandria Area High School, while Jaylen, 20, is currently serving in the U.S. Army.
The girls dive into anything that piques their interest, even if it might be a male-dominated activity. When their father, Alexandria Fire Department Battalion Chief 3 Jeff Rodel, suggested they explore firefighting, they thought, “Why not?”
How and when did you first get involved with the Explorers program?
Jaylen: I was in 10th grade when I first started and stayed involved through high school graduation in 2014.
Kelby: I got involved after Jaylen had been in it. I started my freshman year and I had a lot of fun with everything and everyone so I’ve stuck with it and next year will be my last year.
The program is typically male dominated. What drew you to it?
Jaylen: My dad is a firefighter for Alexandria, and I had some close guy friends that were doing it.
Kelby: My dad told Jaylen and I it would look good for a college résumé; I was interested from the start. It was nice that I knew most of the guys in it.
Were the guys pretty accepting or were there some difficulties being a girl in a guy-dominated program?
Jaylen: I enjoyed the guys very much. They were all accepting and encouraging.
Kelby: The guys were accepting. I was friends with them from the start of Explorers so I wasn’t shy and it wasn’t hard to be the only girl. We’ve all been in it together so we’re pretty close, like family. I treat them like brothers, they treat me like a sister.
What types of skills do you think this program teaches young people?
Jaylen: Responsibility, being able to trust somebody to have your back, and working hard. The program builds friendships that last a lifetime and people you normally wouldn’t hang out with are there. It’s a good way to stay busy and helps build character.
Kelby: Communication skills are huge. Listening and cooperating are big skills I’ve learned as well. My favorite things about the program are the friends I’ve made and the skills I’ve learned.
What are your future plans?
Jaylen: I am currently serving as a military police officer for the Army and plan to continue doing so.
Kelby: I’m thinking of doing Army ROTC for nursing and I may run track also but I have not made a decision on a college yet.
Exploring is a vocation-based program of Learning for Life, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, for youth ages 14 to 20.
Exploring “posts” usually focus on a single career field, such as fire/rescue, and may be sponsored by a government or business entity.
The Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) Explorer program is youth-led, supported by firefighter mentors who are dedicated to helping the youth develop leadership skills, master technical firefighting skills, engage in community service and experience the profession of firefighting.
The program’s mission is to enable young people to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, volunteerism, leadership and life skills so they can make ethical choices and achieve their full potential.
The program is limited to nine participants to ensure the maximum benefit for the students. They meet twice a month on Monday evenings and compete in the Governor’s Fire Competition at the Minnesota State Fair each year.
For more information, contact AFD Chief Jeff Karrow at (320) 763-6488.