November 8, 2005 > Training future heros
Training future heros
Heroes come in all ages, shapes and size; sometimes surfacing in unlikely scenarios. Most recognizable are those who don uniforms of our local safety services. In many cases, calls are routine and involve little more than mundane activity. But in special cases, we, the public, rely on their extraordinary training to resolve difficult situations in the best possible manner. Among these uniformed safety personnel are firefighters whose occupation has evolved to include emergency medical services. Often among the first responders to a crisis, the role of professional firefighter is highly respected with competitive entry into the profession.
On October 20, a firefighter exercise for the Union City Fire Department, designed to test and sharpen emergency skills simulated a recent call for service. Active duty firefighters invited a group of special students to join them as "victims," participants and observers during the drill. Firefighters were tasked with extrication of victims from a high-speed motor vehicle accident, medical triage and calling for additional resources. The students were familiar with some of the techniques due to their training through a unique program of the Mission Valley Regional Occupation Program (ROP).
For a second year, Mission Valley ROP curriculum includes a Fire Science/First Responder class that has now expanded to be housed in its own classroom with storage facilities of turnout clothing, hose, and a fire engine. Instructors Paul Tappan and Sam Lobese are professional firefighters with the Union City Fire Department. Retired firefighter and Emergency Medical Services teacher Lori Adkins rotates with the Tappan and Lobese as an instructor and teaches an Emergency Medical Services class at Mission Valley ROP as well. This year, the teaching staff will be increased by two more firefighter instructors - one from Newark Fire Department and another from Contra Costa County Fire Department - who have just completed their credential requirements.
Last year, a request from ROP to local fire departments to help develop a class for those interested in a firefighter career was answered by Lobese, Adkins and Tappan. Tappan says that the three discussed the class requirements on a Friday and school started the next Tuesday! They found much interest but no curriculum or equipment. "We jumped in with both feet; no budget, no curriculum, no books, no outlines." They used Fire Essentials as the "backbone" and incorporated Fire Science and Technology, physical fitness and emergency medicine into the class of 25 students from the six area high schools. Eager students and success in finding equipment donations has led to the second year and expansion of the curriculum.
Coursework extends beyond academic and fire science, says Tappan. "It makes them [students] take responsibility and take the initiative to do more than a minimum of work." He added, "Those who just want to 'get by' will not succeed in this class." The class is realistic and demands the all activities of firefighters, some of which are not glamorous such as personal grooming, professional etiquette and cleaning the station (including bathrooms) and the engines.
Tappan notes that teaching is fun for him and he likes the idea that "knowledge I have might help others get into this field." It paves the way for students who decide to go through fire academy following graduation. "Academy will be so much easier for them since they will have already been exposed to almost everything. In addition, when they start applying, their resume will show they have been interested and are serious about the profession." Students not only attend class every weekday, but many add volunteer time and ride-along time as well.
Class sessions are reminiscent of professional academy training and reflect a serious dedication to excellence. Adkins says that students must be mature and maintain good attendance. "If attendance is spotty, we can't go back and teach something that has been missed. For instance, if we talked about ladders and are now testing those skills, we need to be able to build on that knowledge." As students assemble for daily sessions, gear and preparation for the day's work are orderly and everyone exudes an air of expectation and proficiency. Right away, visitors feel a difference.
Keith Keller, a Newark Memorial High School student who has been in the Fire Science program for two months gives it high marks and says he will attend Fire Academy to pursue a career as a paramedic firefighter when he graduates. He notes that the program is "awesome and shows us what the business is really all about." Instruction so far has included learning the chain of command, use of turnouts and PPE (personal protective equipment), ladder work and emergency medical response. The class forms close-knit relationships which recently helped Keller when he needed assistance with a presentation. "I made one phone call and ten minutes later I had ten of these guys over to help me."
Rachael Siguera from Washington High School has always wanted to be a firefighter. Seeing an article about the program last year, she asked if it was available this year and applied for admission. Noting the camaraderie of the group, she notes, "We all try really hard and I think many of us will go on to academy together. You learn discipline and holding your own weight in your group and with the class team."
One student in the class admits that initially she was not focused on a firefighter career, rather the physical side of the class. Natalie Freitas says she has now "developed a passion for the work," and has decided to attend academy. Jeff Langes looks forward to Fire Science classes. "Every morning I wake up and get through my other classes just to get to this class. It is a great feeling and what I want to do in life. There is nothing better than to go to something you really want to do."
Phillip Delasgued enjoys the "hands-on" nature of the class and Jared Lofgar agrees. "Some classes you just read things out of a book; in this class you do book work but also get to do things outside and learn leadership skills. This is like a family where you have to trust each other; firefighters trust each other with their lives." Classmate, Katie Marshall says that students in the program respect each other and the chain of command. "We have a special bond."
Students are strictly professional in attitude and held to a high standard of conduct and scholarship as they follow a course that mimics academy requirements for fire department recruits. These classes emphasize realism and put students ahead of thousands of others vying for limited space in EMT, paramedic school and fire academy. According to Tappan, the class provides a valuable service for both students and firefighters. "This is a student's way of seeing if this is really a career they want to pursue and a firefighter's way of seeing the caliber of students available for us to hire."
Career applications of the class extend far beyond local fire departments according to Lobese. For instance, work on ships, at airports, with police and hospitals look favorably on this type of training. He adds completion of this course of study is equivalent to college level studies. No matter what career path is chosen by Fire Science students, the experience offers a rare and valuable peek behind the big rollup doors of a local fire station.
For more information about Fire Science, Emergency Medical Services classes or other Mission Valley ROP opportunities, call (510) 657-1865.