Coachella Valley Fire Academy Grooms Next Generation of Firefighters
Whether they are scaling a smoked-filled tower, learning to use the Jaws of Life or studying fire behavior, aspiring firefighters master the skills they need for the job at the College of the Desert Basic Firefighter Academy.
The Academy is one of the 38 regional training programs accredited by the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Before the center opened in 2012, Coachella Valley residents had to drive an hour or more to attend an accredited fire academy.
COD’s program is designed for students who work or attend school full time, so classes are held for four hours on Thursday nights and all day on Saturdays and Sundays between August and May. The training compliments the fire science associate’s degree offered at the college.
For Ramon Leija, who graduated from the Academy last year, it was important to attend school close to home so that he could save money and help his family in Indio.
“That’s the case for a lot of students in the Coachella Valley,” said Leija, 25. “I wanted to be here and be of service to my community.”
While he finishes his degrees in fire science and political science at COD, Leija is working as a volunteer reserve firefighter for the Riverside County fire station in Coachella. The experience will give him a leg up when it comes time to apply for a full-time job.
Most fire departments require fire academy certification just to apply, said Walt Holloway, the program’s chief officer and a retired division chief at CAL FIRE in San Diego and Riverside.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and be certified in California as an Emergency Medical Technician or have completed an Emergency Medical Responders course. They also must pass a medical exam, physical fitness test and introductory fire protection course.
Students must complete two semesters of training in the classroom and at the Roy Wilson Fire Training Center in Thousand Palms. They use equipment and other resources purchased by COD and its Foundation and donated by local fire stations. Veteran firefighters serve as instructors.
The Academy basics include fire chemistry and water dynamics, hazardous materials and mastering fire hoses, chain saws and generators. Students also work on physical agility and search and rescue techniques.
Academies are encouraged by the State to add courses in subjects that are useful for their region. For the COD program, that includes vehicle extrication, technical rescue and wildland fires.
“If they come out of our fire academy, Riverside County Fire Department will give them an opportunity to apply for a reserve firefighter position in the county, where they will respond to fires and get experience,” Holloway said. “They get those folks developed so they can move into a career position.”
For more information about College of the Desert’s Basic Firefighter Academy, visit www.collegeofthedesert.