Future fire fighters feel the burn

Kellie Mccown

The hot summer sun beat down unforgivingly on four fire academy students as they prepared themselves to enter an abandond house. At the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Training Center in Walnut Creek, Batillion Chief Jeff Burris yells out a stern “Let’s Go.”  Without hesitation the future firefighters, each wearing 50 pounds of gear, put on helmets blackened with duck tape to simulate smoke, and proceed to enter the building blind.
In darkness they advance the fire hose through the fully furnished home with only each other to rely on. “Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!” commands Burris. This is a typical Saturday training day at the fire training center for the Los Medanos College Fire Academy. Here, fire students get hands on training simulations, build job skills, and prepare themselves for real life firefighting situations. “It’s hard,” said Carlos Avevalo after he completed the simulation. “It’s both physically hard and mentally hard.”
With a total of 30 units in fire technology and fire academy classes, and the completion of the LMC Fire Academy with at least a 2.0 GPA students are able to get an Educational Fire Fighter One certificate, which qualifies students to test at fire houses throughout the state of California. Students are also able to get their Associate of Science degree in Fire Technology.
According to Fire Technology Associate Professor and El Cerrito Fire Captain John Kelleher, students often fulfill these requirements and continue on to gainful employment. “Everyone here is doing a job,” explained Kelleher.
“Everyone pulls their own weight. We have a couple of guys drop in the first week or two, but about 90 percent finish.” “It’s as hard as you make it,” said Victor Jackson, a fire student in the program. “It’s as hard as you push yourself. I push myself 100.” While being able to mentally and physically perform the demanding tasks that are asked of firefighters, being able to work in a team is one of the most important skills that is learned in the academy.
“The huge thing is the teamwork,” said reserve firefighter for Oakland Dominique Reyes. “You’re with your team more than your family. You have to trust the guy in front of you and the guy in back of you to do their job.”
Firefighter and LMC Fire Academy graduate Brittany Tilley was attracted to the hard work and family atmosphere that is felt throughout the firefighting community. “I’m one of thirteen siblings, so I really like the family atmosphere,” explained Tilley. “Its hands on, and I’m defiantly not an office person.” The onsite teachers at the training center are all hired seasoned firefighters, and most volunteer their time, getting no compensation.
The fire men and women teach because they believe that teaching the future firefighters of America is just as important and rewarding. “It makes me do a better job at being a firefighter,” said Kelleher with a small smile as he looks over the LMC fire students.” I get a lot out of it. I see that these students really want to be firefighters. They live and die for this, and that’s why I come back.”