Forging a firefighter family
Training program with a focus on relationships
By Joan Westlake
Ramon Gonzalez says helping people is something he always knew he wanted to do. The choice of career that would allow him to achieve that goal became clear through the influence of his high school football coach, who was a firefighter, and a good friend, who also became a first responder.
“I started researching and went for some ride-alongs,” Gonzalez said. “The first day I spent at the station with the guys; it was exciting and I knew every day would be different. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a firefighter.”
Currently, Gonzalez works in the EMT/Fire Science office at Phoenix College, volunteers for the Fire Science Program and is a reserve firefighter in the Harquahala Valley Fire District, west of Phoenix. He earned his Associate’s Degree in Emergency Response and Operations at Phoenix College and also completed the Firefighter I and II Academies in the spring of 2009.
“Those I knew in the field told me,” he explained, “that if I wanted a good chance to be hired by the Phoenix Fire Department, I should get involved with Phoenix College, because nine out of ten of their instructors are Phoenix firefighters. Plus, the Firefighter I and II certifications taught through Phoenix College are the best in the state, not only because of the regimen that they follow, but, also because they are taught by Phoenix Fire personnel at the Phoenix Firefighter Training Academy.”
In addition to the learning experience, Gonzalez says networking opportunities within the first responder community at Phoenix College are boundless. From 30 to 35 percent of the Phoenix College fire science graduates find jobs in departments across the nation.
“We tell our students that, from the very first day they walk into class, this is your first interview to become a firefighter,” said Dennis Dodt, who retired after 22 years as a Phoenix firefighter and is now director of the Phoenix College Fire Science Program. “Our instructors are asked by their colleagues about the students’ characters, as well as how they performed in class.”
Dodt emphasized that it is important for those looking to have a career as first responders to understand that they are professionals and role models 24/7. It is a way of life, not just a job.
Phoenix College’s partnership with the Phoenix Fire Department (PFD) goes back more than four decades. In 2008, the Maricopa County Community College District, of which Phoenix College (PC) is the flagship institution, invested in the PFD Training Academy, which allows PC and Paradise Valley Community College to use its resources. In addition to instructors who are firefighters, the partnership ensures that the most up-to-date equipment and techniques are available to students. The program not only prepares recruits to pass the written tests, but also imparts the physical and mental skills they will need. Once they become firefighters, there are additional classes and certifications to help with promotions.
Dodt points out that several of the Maricopa Community Colleges, such as Chandler-Gilbert, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Estrella Mountain and Glendale, have departments in their geographic areas that have relationships with the Fire Science Program.
Ron Trujillo, a Marine deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said that working an office job held no appeal for him. He knew he would need to be active. To be a first responder with new and rewarding challenges every day seemed an ideal way to do something he loved for a living.
While in high school, Trujillo heard that people from all over the region came to first responder training at Phoenix College, but it was financially advantageous for him to go into the Marines first. A staff sergeant and a close friend who are firefighters furthered his resolve to become one himself.
Trujillo has already completed his Associate’s Degree in Emergency Response and Operations and has gone through the Training Academy at Phoenix College. He has just applied to test for the PFD as well as other departments throughout the country. Because so many of the College’s instructors are from the PFD, Trujillo says that he has felt confident, ever since the first day of class, that he has been establishing a good reputation within the community.
“Over the past few years, more and more veterans have come to further their education at Phoenix College,” said college president, Anna Solley. “It seems that many of those who have been in the military now look for a way to continue that duty to our nation and their communities by becoming first responders. We welcome the maturity and dedication they bring to our Fire Science and EMT Programs and we are honored to help them reach their admirable goals of continued service.”