Chico, Calif. – It is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding careers one can enter into; that of firefighter/paramedic. The emergency first responders are responsible for far more than simply putting out fires. The fire-professionals of today must be well-versed in fire suppression, emergency rescue, medical response, hazardous materials, vehicle extrication and search and rescue efforts from both land and water. And all of these disciplines could happen at any time, any place, 24-hours a day, every day!
The Chico Fire Department, which was first established in 1873, has a long tradition of providing safety response services to the community. Now, the department is embarking on a new level of community education, by providing residents the opportunity to experience a behind-the-scenes and physical “hands-on” education of the fire service. The first ever Chico Fire Department Citizens’ Fire Academy, allowed a dozen students; all Chico residents and business owners, the chance to see exactly what it takes to be a part of the Chico Fire Department.
Chico Fire Chief Steve Standridge says the department started the Citizens’ Fire Academy in order to educate the public. He says the fire service is something of an enigma to the public and many people do not have a good understanding of what the fire department does and how they do it or why they do it. He believe a hands-on course is a good way to allow citizens to have a hands-on experience that they would not otherwise have.
Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough joined members of the department for a day-long course at the Butte College Fire Academy training grounds in Oroville. To give participants the full effect of what firefighters must prepare for, class members began the course fitting for bunker-gear and properly fitting breathing apparatus; the same professional firefighters use.
During the eight-hour class, participants had the opportunity to pull fire house, open fire hydrants and operate a water hose to attack a mock target. Class instruction included moving through a smoke-filled house with zero visibility, while searching for a trapped victim. The exercise is designed to give students a feel for what it is like to operate in an emergency search and rescue event. Firefighters are often called to scenes of accidents in which victims must be extricated from cars or buildings. Students in the Citizens’ Fire Academy were given the opportunity to review the various tools used to rescue victims and perform a hands-on demonstration using the “jaws of life” extrication tool. Exercises also covered technical rescue and ropes, with class members having the opportunity to rappel down the side of a five story building.
The Citizens’ Fire Academy culminated with students experiencing the conditions of a real blaze, by entering a so-called “burn building” to see, feel and hear the power of a live fire. Class participant Ben Winter described the experience, saying what impressed him was the full darkness, the smoke and the look of the fire, which he describes as “an animal.”
Another class member, Taj Atkins, said the flames were flowing and went up fast and moved out quick.
Chico City Council Member Ann Schwab took part in the course as well, saying it gave her a better understanding of the full range of challenges faced by the department for staffing and funding needs.
When asked what the biggest take-away from the course was, participant John Adams said he was struck by how much training department members have and the knowledge and skills they possess. He said, “These guys are better than anybody.”
For more information on not only the role of the Chico Fire Department but regional resources in offering fire response and public education, check out Action News Now's series of special reports on Wildfire Preparedness for the 2018 wildfire season.