Gone is the concept of men in red suspenders sitting around the firehouse playing checkers, waiting for a phone call.
Gone, the days of lines of people passing buckets of water hand-to-hand to put out the barn fire. Gone, even, is the firehouse Dalmatian.
Enter a new age of high-tech computerization for Orange County’s firefighters; an intricate glitzy system of reverse video, stereo sound and state-of-the-art communication, equipment and personnel.
And for all those grown-ups who never let childhood dreams of being a firefighter fall by the wayside, the North Net Training Center in Anaheim is like being Indiana Jones in a set full of props.
There is a concrete four-story burn tower to set on fire, wrecked cars to break into with the “Jaws of Life,” non-energized electrical poles from which to rescue people, roofs to climb, trenches to pull people out of, a liquid petroleum unit to practice putting out gas fires, a communications antenna, a control tower, about a dozen fire hydrants, a simulator training room, a library and classrooms, plus several fire engines with all the prerequisite ladders, whistles and bells. In short, in terms of hands-on training, it’s the next best thing to being there.
But getting the opportunity to train at the facility isn’t easy. There are only two ways to get in: already be employed in some capacity in the fire service field, or, the other, more popular method, enroll in a fire technology program such as the one at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana.
“It’s no longer a matter of pouring the wet stuff on the red stuff,” said Richard Keller, deputy chief of the college’s fire academy. “Fire chiefs got together to save taxpayers some money and put together a program for pre-entry training for prospective firefighters. Students are counseled, tested and evaluated to see if they have the skills to be successful.”
Future firefighters who are diligent and enter the program are put through a grueling schedule of classes in physical sciences, safety, fire prevention practices, building construction, equipment and systems, and physical fitness. And students who are not up to par in a particular area can hone their skills while they’re in college instead of at taxpayer expense.
“If they were going through the city, the city would have to pay salary, benefits and training only to find out they can’t meet a standard. With this program, if they don’t meet a standard, they can go back through until they do,” Keller said.
“Junior college is like boot camp. After students complete the course, they will end up with a two-year college degree and should be able to get their state firefighter certification,” said Division Chief Ron Hamric, who oversees the Anaheim training facility.
In spite of the odds, there is never a shortage of eager men and women at the North Net Training Center, running up the stairs at the burn tower, black soot smudging their faces and clothes, carrying bulky hoses and equipment, probably wondering just what they’ve gotten themselves into.