East County will soon have the temporary benefit of our fifth fire station in Brentwood re-opening in early May; however, 11-new hires must first go through a grueling 8-week training program that will prepare them for job of ensuring top notch public safety to the District.
These recruits are learning everything from basic District protocols, to CPR, to rolling up hoses, to running mock fire calls. They also are given a two-hour military style workout each morning to get in top shape before serving the community.
Chief Hugh Henderson stated the District has gone the extra mile to make sure the new personnel have a good training orientation and are prepared to go to work safely and serve the community. It’s important to remember that because of the Grant and resources, ECCFPD will not be providing a traditional basic academy, but rather an orientation.
“Our new firefighters have their state certified firefighter one and emergency medical technician as part of their basic requirements. The eight week orientation allows them to brush up their skills and learn the way the district operates,” said Chief Henderson.
The application process started back in November of last year where 353 applicants were screened and over the course of an application process, the 11-best applicants were chosen after written examinations, background checks and medical exams.
This came after the District was able to hire back a handful of employees who were temporary laid off after voters ridiculously voted down Measure S—these re-hires ensured the Knightsen Station was open quickly in November after the District was working on a three-station service model. It’s important to remember that with the temporary FEMA Grant, we are still only going to operate just 5 of our 8 stations.
“All of our new firefighters have experience from working with other agencies either as full-time firefighters or volunteers. They all have a strong commitment to providing service for the community/district,” said Chief Hugh Henderson.
Henderson said that these new recruits bring “energy” and “excitement” to the District.
Captain Gil Guerrero, also vice president of Local 1230, pointed out that the training is relatively shorter compared to the average 16-week academy run throughout the county. He pointed out that while the new guys coming on are a benefit, they are starting over because they were unable to re-hire firefighters who took jobs elsewhere.
“We are cramming 16-weeks into 8-weeks of training. Instead of guys who have been here for years that we lost during the layoffs, we have guys with 8-weeks of crammed training. The guys that had been here for years knew how it all worked, the recruits have to now learn the diversity of the district and how everything works and that takes years to master,” explained Guerrero.
In speaking with Battalion Chief Brian Helmick, he explained that it’s like a second full-time job making sure everything is ready to go for the instructors each day. Due to lack of staffing levels with the District, he drives to and from the training facility twice a day for oversight and prep.
He estimates he and his other instructors have put in additional time to ensure the training/orientation is a success. Helmick and others state that it’s worth it to ensure guys are properly trained.
Although the orientation is just 8-weeks, Helmick explained how the District has improved from its 10-day orientation. In addition, the District will be able to continue to mold and train the new-hires as probationary firefighters over the 18-month probation period.
At the training facility, East County Today had the opportunity on March 28 to observe Battalion Chief Jeff Burris, Captain Gil Guerrero, firefighter Jimmy Laughlin , and Engineer Greg Baitx train the 11-recruits.
This particular day focused on rolling hoses, practice drills, mock “carol lane” drills in the four-story building.
“The challenge is not having enough instructors for the recruits available,” said Guerrero.
The District is typically working on a 4-student to 1-instructor ratio on most days, however, on March 28, they were working on a 2-student to 1-instructor ratio due to the trainings that day which included training on hoses, nozzles and fittings. They also did mock rescues in the training tower.
When challenged on the ratios, it was explained that fire safety is not a typical education. You front load the effort in training to save a lot of pain later. If there is not proper oversight, it could cause issues during an emergency situation.
“You have more students to instructors. If they develop bad habits in training, they think its okay in the field because no one pointed it out. The point of training is to create good habits,” said Battalion Chief Burris. “We have to make sure we are putting out a good product because that is what we are known for.”
To give this problem some perspective, KIVITV.com out of Boise, reported that on a March 28 live fire training exercise, their 16-recruits had been training for 20-weeks before testing on a live home fire. They also report that there are almost as many captains and chiefs as there are recruits to supervise.
Unfortunately, ECCFPD does not have this luxury due to our the budget restrictions.
According to Burris, at this point in time, the recruits are doing very well. Helmick echoed Burris thoughts by stating “we have a good group of recruits” coming on Board.
“The excitement is getting another station open and another engine company on the streets. It benefits not only the community, but the safety for the firefighters and other public safety officers as well,” said Battalion Chief Brian Helmick.
Here are some photos I took from the March 28 Training Day at the Concord Facility.