WATSONVILLE—Watsonville fire engine 4415—with lights flashing and sirens blaring—pulled up to a two-story building on Airport Boulevard Thursday afternoon, which had smoke pouring from an upper window.
A group of firefighters quickly jumped out and got to work, donning breathing gear, unspooling hoses and releasing torrents of water.
Two of the firefighters rushed in and carried out two young victims that appeared unconscious, and began performing CPR.
Welcome to the 2021 Watsonville Fire Youth Academy, a two-week program that taught 20 “firefighters,” aged 14-18, to work through the completely simulated emergency at Watsonville Fire Department’s training facility.
The Academy, created by WFD Chief Rudy Lopez, wraps up today. It was launched in 2019 and put on hold last year due to Covid-19.
For Watsonville High School student Miriam Servin, 16, her reason for attending the Academy was simple.
“This is my future plan for a career,” she said. “I want to serve my community. I believe it’s the best thing you can do.”
Servin calls the program “amazing.”
“It gets your adrenaline pumping,” she said.
Adrian Martinez, 16, says he plans to join the U.S. Army after he graduates, but added that he hopes to serve his own community once he gets out.
“They do a lot for us,” he said of firefighters. “I know that one day I want to serve them the way they serve us.”
Karla Avala, 18, was part of the first Academy in 2019, and was back to help with this one. She remembers the difficult physical aspect of the program and the challenge of the academic portion. What she liked the most, however, was the camaraderie that came from working with her team.
“By the end of it we were like a family,” she said. “I remember how much fun I had and how much I learned.”
Chief Lopez says the Academy gives young people another tool in building a possible career. He also teaches Intro to Fire Technology, a Career Technical Education class for local high schools. WFD also offers a Fire Cadet program for young people.
The Academy is funded in part by Measure G, the half-cent sales tax measure approved by voters in 2014 and renewed in 2020 as Measure Y.
Lopez says he got the idea from a similar academy in Richmond.
“I saw the opportunity and the need in our community,” he said. “I really believe, as the leader of our department, that we need to be more than just emergency services. Because we have people who are so eager to support the community.”