Fire Academy expands its horizons
As the sun peeks over the fire station in Dixon, 27 new recruits storm into the yard for another day of fire hose training.
“We teach ‘em to squirt it, put fires out, throw ladders and rescue people” Chief Richard Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie was in the first group of new students who graduated from the Solano Community College Fire Academy in 1977. Tall and robust, his booming voice accepts no dissent from the students.
He’s come full circle since entering the program more than 30 years ago. Spending over 20 years teaching fire candidates while still being a full time firefighter has given him a unique insight into what new students really need on the front line.
Offered only a couple times a year, the academy is the real “hands on” portion that puts practical application to concepts learned in the classroom.
With new teachers and expanded courses that focus on advanced level skills; this program has earned a reputation within the fire community for producing exceptionally qualified recruits. This in turn gives the recruits an edge when it comes to finding a job in an extremely competitive profession.
“Some of our newest courses are high angle rescue, trench rescue, hazardous materials and our expanded wildland fire training,” Mackenzie said.
The students come from all over the county and are expected to put in 720 hours of training in the academy to graduate.
Students train in full firefighter gear Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. All of the teachers are either retired or active firefighters and bring invaluable experience with them with Chief Ron Karlen and Frank Drayton being the most recently hired.
This “hands on” experience gets passed on to the fresh faces of new students just entering the field, like Alayna Woody, an army reservist who hopes to become a firefighter one day. The only woman in the group of 27, she’s small but strong. A part time boxer for physical fitness, she said she’s always wanted to be a fire fighter.
She doesn’t hesitate when she talks about how generous the teachers are with their experience and how much the training has meant to her.
“The most exciting part was when we got to put on the full gear with air tank and enter a smoky house to rescue someone,” Woody said. You had to find the person in all the smoke, the adrenaline was pumping and… this is why I got into it, this is what I want to do with my life, rescue people.”
Although the program budget still presents the most challenging part of his new job, Chief Mackenzie says he is appreciative of all the support he gets from the committed teaching staff and the state of California.