Anaheim Fire & Rescue Training company thrives on learning

By Elysse James

It’s the third day of testing for five probationary firefighters, with the captains of Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 3 training company acting as test proctors at North Net Training Center in Anaheim.

While the new firefighters are breaking open metal doors and dragging limp bodies out of smoky buildings, other training company members are inside the building with 14 recruits beginning their journey through the fire academy.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Recruit Michael Hitchcock puts water on a burning car during a drill at Anaheim’s North Net Fire Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Though it’s a full day for the training company, they’re not done yet. These firefighters are on duty when they return to Station 3, ready to roll to an emergency when the alarm sounds.

The elite group at Station 3 thrives in this hectic environment, and flourishes through teaching others, learning new skills, juggling myriad duties, and staying on top of the latest industry practices.

A firefighter carries a ladder during Anaheim Fire & Rescue training exercises at the North Net Training Center in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“You’re always engaged, 24/7, even at home,” said Captain Marcel Medina, who spent 11 years at CalFire before joining Anaheim Fire & Rescue 15 years ago. “Usually the people that are in the training company, that’s what they crave.”

Even now, the training company is looking ahead to next month’s schedule, preparing future demonstrations and doing research on tactics used at other fire stations that might one day be implemented at Anaheim Fire & Rescue, Captain Bradley Oye said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Captain George Rangel uses what Anaheim firefighters call the Sandifer shower, a PVC pipe shower designed by Captain Tim Sandifer to be set up on location to wash off cancer-causing soot from a fire. Angel Stadium is behind him.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The new techniques increase safety for firefighters and paramedics who work to protect lives and property in dangerous circumstances, and that’s motivating for these captains.

“This job is never ending as far as your preparation, your training, your education,” Captain Bryan Morris said.

Captain Tim Sandifer, right, takes trainees through a customized shipping container as a fire burns inside during a training exercise at North Net Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

But presenting new ideas in a field that holds close to tradition can be difficult. Knowing that not everyone will want to adopt new ideas forces the training company to be prepared for resistance.

“Change is hard,” said Captain George Rangel, an Anaheim native who’s been with the department for 17 years. “One of the lines I used in my captain’s interview is, ‘You can’t have progress without change.’”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruit Lukas Mathews caries a hose during a drill at North Net Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The training company researches, tests, and retests new procedures and examines possible downsides long before bringing the idea to other stations.

“Sometimes you get beat up when you bring new ideas, but you can’t be scared of that,” Medina said. “But it’s a process to get there, too.”

A recruit climbs the ladder at North Net Training Center’s tower during a drill.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

It’s that process that keeps Anaheim Fire & Rescue on top of advances in the field. Even in the last few decades, improvements in firefighting have made huge strides to better protect first responders and the community.

Take, for example, the hydraulic tool known as “the jaws of life,” which is smaller and easier to use than its first iteration, or vehicle stabilization tools that are stronger and more task-specific, able to keep a rolled car balanced on its side while firefighters extract people trapped inside.

Firefighters climb the North Net Training Center tower in full gear during a drill.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The overall goal is to be better, safer, faster, more aggressive; be the best that we all can be,” Medina said.

That’s a goal held by all members of the training company, and one they pass along to the new recruits in the fire academy.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Captain George Rangel removes his oxygen mask after a drill.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“We tell them that we have very, very high expectations and we continue to raise those expectations every day,” Captain Tim Sandifer said. “They come right along with them.”

“The more you really do know intellectually, you marry that with the physical aspect and you just become a more dominant firefighter,” Medina said. “You’re a force to be reckoned with, and I craved that.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruits participate in what is called a “hot wash,” where supervisors evaluate their performance in the just-completed drill and give pointers for improvement.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Oye particularly enjoys working with incoming firefighters and sharing with them his experience in the fire academy.

“I definitely remember some of the people that made impressions on me when I was going through the academy and some of the lessons they taught me back then still stand true with me today,” Oye said. “Hopefully I can have that kind of impact with them.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue training exercises are held at the North Net Training Center in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Recruit Scott Roberts climbs the North Net Training Center tower during a drill.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruits take a hose to a fire inside a customized shipping container used for training.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

AF&R Capt. George Rangel uses what Anaheim firefighters call the Sandifer Shower, a PVC pipe shower designed by Capt. Tim Sandifer to be setup on location to wash off cancer causing soot from a fire.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighter recruits from left: Andrew Kim, Anna Araujo, and Andrew Thomas, and Captain Bryan Morris carry a firefighter down the stairs out of a smoky building during a drill at the North Net Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter Julian Gonzalez runs to the tower with a hose during a training session.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Captain Matthew Gordon checks on firefighters in oxygen masks trying to rescue a dummy from a dark smoke-filled room during a drill. The smoke from a smoke machine was safe for the captain to breath.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter Andrew Thomas uses the Jaws of Life to get into a car as Captain Brad Oye and Captain George Rangel, right, evaluate his technique.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter Cody Strickland talks about his performance after a drill.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter Cody Strickland gets ready to enter a smoke-filled room on the third floor of the tower wearing an oxygen mask as Captain Bryan Morris stands over him during a training session.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Captain Bryan Morris talks about the firefighters’ performance after dragging a 165-pound dummy out of a smoke-filled room on the third floor of the training tower.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter Andrew Thomas, left, and other recruits use the Jaws of Life to remove a door as Captain George Rangel, right, evaluates their progress.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue captions from left: Bradley Oye, Matt Gordon, Marcel Medina, George Rangel, Tim Sandifer, and Bryan Morris.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters at the North Net Training Center from left: Captain George Rangel, Captain Bradley Oye, Captain Marcel Medina, Captain Matt Gordon, Firefighter Blake Berg, Firefighter Calvin Bui, Captain Bryan Morris, and Captain Tim Sandifer.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC