Anaheim teens become firefighters for a day at first-ever High School Boot Camp

By Elysse James

Teens from Anaheim High School recently had a chance to test their mettle during High School Boot Camp at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s North Net training facility.

During the one-day pilot program on Oct. 31, 25 students donned full gear and participated in three exercises designed to give them a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. They practiced aiming a fire hose, using hydraulic tools to cut into a car, and rescuing a weighted mannequin from a building.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter Mike Houghton helps 16-year-old Brian Pichardo with his firefighting gear during a boot camp for Anaheim High School students.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The students also received information on firefighter career paths and job requirements – and learned the competition is tough. During the last recruitment, over 950 individuals applied for an entry-level firefighter job and only 25 got hired, Fire Chief Randy Bruegman said.

The teens were given information that could increase their chance of getting hired, such as joining the Fire Explorers Program during high school and pursuing a college degree.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighters Nicholas Ivanoff, left, and Mike Houghton instruct students from Anaheim High on the equipment used by firefighters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“A lot of kids dream of being a firefighter,” said Alfonso Rodriguez, Anaheim High School athletic director. “They’ll have a more well-rounded view of what firefighters endure and the process of being a fireman.”

Before dressing in full protective firefighter gear – which can weigh up to 50 pounds – the students watched Probationary Firefighter Anna Araujo gear up in under a minute.

Joseph Lechuga, 15, left, gets instructions on using a firefighter’s hose from Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter Anna Araujo.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Time makes every bit of difference when an emergency occurs,” Battalion Chief Chad Thompson said. “The faster we get to an emergency scene, the faster we can put the fire out.”

Firefighter Mike Houghton, who’s been with Anaheim Fire & Rescue for 11 years, helped the students use a set of hydraulic tools designed to cut cars open. Each teen had a chance to break a piece of a car using the equipment, with help from a firefighter.

Kimberly Enciso, 14, of Anaheim High, uses a Jaws of Life device to take apart a car under the guidance of AF&R Firefighter Nicholas Ivanoff. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In another area, Fire Engineer Brian Pennock crawled into a dark building with a team of students in search of a weighted mannequin. One student used a heat-detecting camera to navigate through the building as they crawled on hands and knees (as they would if the building were on fire), and the group had to work together to get the heavy dummy out safely. Salvador Vega, 17, said his group was bumping into objects while navigating through the dark.

“This was very difficult,” Shawnee Covarrubias, 17, said. “We didn’t give up. It was all teamwork.”

Students from Anaheim High School check out thermal imaging cameras used by firefighters to detect hot spots and people in the dark.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Some students complained about the weight of the firefighter gear and said it was difficult to complete the task.

“This is an arduous job and you have to be in shape,” Bruegman said. “It’s also a profession where you get to make a difference in someone’s life every day.”

AF&R Firefighter Nicholas Ivanoff, right, instructs students from Anaheim High School on how to use a Jaws of Life device to take apart a car during the one-day training class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Because this is a pilot program, Anaheim Fire & Rescue is requesting feedback from the students who attended the Boot Camp.

“Whether they pursue a career or not, it’s great to see young people expand their horizon and open their mind to possibilities,” said Elsa Covarrubias, manager of community engagement for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

Enrique Vivas and his friend Angel Acevedo, both 16, said they enjoyed seeing how firefighters work. The experience did not deter Vivas from his career goal.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman asks Anaheim High students how many were considering a career in firefighting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I still want to be a firefighter,” Vivas said. “You get to help people out and get to give back and it gives you perspective.”

About one-third of the students, including Shawnee Covarrubias and Acevedo, were interested in a career as a firefighter before attending the boot camp.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter Anna Araujo demonstrates how to suit up in full gear as quickly as possible during a course for high school students.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Ever since I was small, I just thought of saving people, even though it was going to be really hard,” Shawnee Covarrubias said. “I’m going to have a lot of competition, so I know I have to get better every day and work harder.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Chad Thompson and Firefighter Anna Araujo talk to students from Anaheim High School.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Chad Thompson, left, and Firefighter Anna Araujo talk to students from Anaheim High School.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Students from Anaheim High get ready to suit up in full firefighter gear during a class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Ethan Ruiz, 15, left, gets guidance on using a firefighter’s hose from AF&R Firefighter Anna Araujo during a one-day class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

AF&R Engineer Brian Pennock instructs Anaheim High students on the rescue operation they will need to perform in a dark building.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Students from Anaheim High School crawl on their hands and knees with full firefighter gear on as they enter a dark training building on a rescue mission.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

AF&R Engineer Brian Pennock instructs Anaheim High students, with Capt. Matthew Gordon behind him, right, on the use of thermal imaging cameras used by firefighters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim High School students drag a dummy out of a very dark building as they simulate a rescue in a burning structure during a class for high school students.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

AF&R Capt. Matthew Gordon and Engineer Brian Pennock gather with Anaheim High School students after completing a rescue task during a one-day boot camp at the North Net Fire Training Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Melody Popoca, 16, of Anaheim High, left, uses the Jaws of Life device to take apart a car under the guidance of AF&R Firefighter Nicholas Ivanoff.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Students from Anaheim High School sit inside a car they helped to take apart with a Jaws of Life device under the supervision of Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter Anna Araujo drags a hose in preparation for putting out a car fire as students from Anaheim High School observe.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Elsa Covarrubias, community engagement manager for Anaheim Fire & Rescue, talks to students from Anaheim High School.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Students from Anaheim High School gather with members of Anaheim Fire & Rescue near the conclusion of the one-day training class.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC