Loved ones glimpse life of an Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruit during Family Day

By Karen Meeks

For Somersby Jenkins, her family’s support has been essential in realizing her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

From phone calls to her firefighter sister in San Francisco to financial help to pay for books, the Anaheim resident credited her family for getting her this far.

“I would not have been able to get to this point without the support from my family,” said Jenkins, one of 17 recruits to enter Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s 2018 Recruit Academy. “I’ve come home not thinking I could do this and just having that emotional support of ‘You can do this’ is great.”

Recruits gather at the North Net Training Center for Family Day, marking the start of Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s 2018 Recruit Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Jenkins’ mother, Avalon, who was with her daughter Saturday for Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Family Day at North Net Training Center, said she was “weepy with pride.”

“This is really a dream come true for Somersby, and this department is amazing,” she said.

More than a dozen of Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s newest recruits and their families attended Family Day, an event that allowed recruits to meet each other, tour the training center, and prepare them and their families for the grueling eight weeks of academy starting Friday and 12-month probation period that follows post-academy.

“This is just the start of the race,” Fire Chief Randy Bruegman said, adding that this latest crop of recruits are diverse in age (from 23 to 44), backgrounds, and experience.

Recruits will train 40 hours a week for the next eight weeks before a 12-month probation period where they are tested during their 24-hour shifts. After four months, they are allowed to work overtime and could be sent on a strike team where they could be gone for two weeks or as long as 21 days before they are rotated out, Bruegman said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman welcomes new recruits and their families.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“The goal is to get them hitting the ground running and ready on Day One,” he said.

Those long hours and stressful days will test families.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue recruit Ryan Steslicki’s girlfriend of six years, Carrera Leighton, 28, remembers how intense the training was when Steslicki went through it with another fire department.

This time, Steslicki will stay with her family while in the academy, then commute from Temecula to Anaheim for the probation period.

“If I could give any advice to anybody here, it’s just to stay patient and get over the hurdle,” said Leighton, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Kensington, with Steslicki. “It’s going to take a year but it’s a lifetime of opportunities. It’s crazy, but as family, we’ve got to support them and I’m excited for everybody else here.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Pat Russell talks to the 2018 recruits and their families.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

For Steslicki, 34, the opportunity to come to Anaheim could not be passed up.

“I was looking for a department that offered a lot of stability and a lot of opportunities in fire services and Anaheim was right at the top of the list,” said Steslicki, a 10-year firefighter. “I’m real fortunate to test here. I’m excited to provide fire services to the residents and visitors of Anaheim and to be part of the fire family here.”

Meanwhile, new recruit Michael White, 33, is in the midst of big life changes. A month ago, his son Caden was born, and this week his family is moving into a new house just days before he starts the academy.

The 2018 recruits gather for Family Day, marking the start of the Recruit Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s like so many good things all at once,” said White’s fiancée, Nico Kinsbursky, who was cradling a sleeping one-month-old Caden while she watched White tour the training center with other recruits. “He’s so excited to get started.”

Kinsbursky said going through the academy and probation will be intense, but the family is up for the challenge.

“It’s what you do for someone you love,” she said. “When I was newly pregnant and starting a new job, he supported me through that. So I told him, we’ll make it work. We’ll study together, I’ll make flashcards.”

Nico Kinsbursky holds her 1-month-old son, Caden, dressed up for Saint Patrick’s Day, as her fiancé, Michael White, gets acquainted with the other recruits.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

White said he’s overwhelmed and humbled to have a shot at serving in Anaheim.

“This is a dream place,” he said.

This opportunity allows him to give his young son a better life.

“I’m doing it for him,” White said. “I want him to go to a nice school and have a nice house and have all the things I didn’t have. It’s a real driving factor in pursuing this. Yeah, it’s going to be hard but it’s all for him and for her.”

Chief Randy Bruegman talks to the new recruits and their families.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC