German Ochoa, Wildland Firefighter

This is a story of pride, perseverance and accomplishment for Anderson Valley High School Senior German Ochoa. Like all seniors German needed to pick a Senior Project. When he spoke with his teacher Jill Rathe about his plans to possibly do a ride-along with law enforcement she steered him toward a Fire Service Training Program in Wildland Firefighting sponsored by the Mendocino County Office of Education Career Technical Education and Cal-Fire. Far from being a vague idea for a project this program was going to start November 9th and it was going to be demanding. To give you an idea of how demanding, the Senior Project requires a minimum of 15 hours of logged time, German estimates that he has logged on about 200 hours so far! I am looking at the brochure for the program. It reads; “What is the Basic Wild-land Firefighter Training Program? It is an entry-level MCOE/Career Technical Education course offered in partnership with Cal-Fire to prepare students for a career in the public service sector.” 70 people applied, 30 were accepted and 21 got their certificates of completion. In the photo of their graduation we see German the third from the left standing very tall. The entire class trimmed their hair close for the occasion. Jill Rathe was in the audience in Willits to applaud German’s success, she told me bagpipes were played and you can hardly beat that for a ceremonial occasion.

Beginning at the beginning German had to get himself to Willits every Friday night by 6:00 for 10 weeks. The first class outlined the basic rules and expectations. Participants signed a contract of understanding. At first everyone was expected to bring their own food but over time they organized themselves into an economical meal program taking turns cooking things like hot dogs and chili with beans. Once a mom made enchiladas. German brought a sleeping bag expecting to spend the night at the station on an available fireman’s cot, which he did along with others who did not live close by. Clearly this program required a lot of resiliency and a can-do attitude. Saturday morning it was a physical workout and equipment training session from 7-8am. After breakfast it was classroom instruction all day in basic fire science with power points- German received a binder with copies of all the PowerPoint slides to keep for study. He told me that the method was to see the PowerPoint with an instructor and then do hands-on practice of the material covered. In addition to fire fighting skills they learned first aide, CPR and basic First Responder. Sunday they were back in the classroom cramming and practicing 8-5 in structure firefighting, firesteam deployment, search and rescue, wildland fire operations and hoselays, handline construction, helicopter operations, rope rescue tactics, injury triage and ambulance operations, All instructors volunteered their time to teach.

I asked German what was the most exciting and he told me, “Getting gear, it was awesome bringing it home to practice. We got time tested putting it on- both for structural (building), which is thicker, and wildland (foliage) which is thinner. I could do structural in about 1 minute 5 seconds”. They also got to use SCBA which is a life supporting air tank. He told me that trainees get two chances to be tested and pass for every skill. The last weekend was “Survivor Weekend” and they learned how to escape a building as if they were in real danger, which included flipping out a second story window in a pretty acrobatic way onto a ladder. German thought this was probably the most fun he had. He has submitted his application for seasonal work and if he is accepted could go to Cal-Fire in Covelo, Ft. Bragg, Willits or Boonville. He said he would highly recommend the training to anyone who wants to get out there and protect our community. German is now considering firefighting as a career. Wildland Firefighting Agencies include: Cal-Fire, United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management plus Municipal Fire Departments and Private Industry.

As German was describing his experience to me I could tell that hanging in for all this training and concentrated classroom time wasn’t always a picnic and it obviously took a good deal of self discipline. But, the confident young man before me also looked very happy and proud of his accomplishment. Clearly this opportunity was crafted to match the abilities and aspirations of people who have the energy and desire to work as a team for the good of the community and their families. Job well done German, congratulations! PS. Jill, I guess this proves once again just how much difference the guidance of a wise and skillful teacher can make in the life of a motivated student. If you or someone you know would be interested in this program contact MCOE/CTE at 707 467-5123.

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