2017-11-02 / Inside Education

Baptism by fire: Grizzly Fire students immerse themselves in their training

Trainees practiced vehicle extrication techniques last week
By MATT JOHNSON
Sports/Education Editor


Grizzly Fire instructor Al Brondolo (right) is shown with MPUD deputy fire chief Russ Marks. Brondolo said many of the students involved in the fire program “are blue collar,” hard workers. 
Photos by Matt Johnson Grizzly Fire instructor Al Brondolo (right) is shown with MPUD deputy fire chief Russ Marks. Brondolo said many of the students involved in the fire program “are blue collar,” hard workers. Photos by Matt Johnson A tradition that has gone on for over 20 years continued last week at Ponderosa Auto Dismantling on Carleton Road.

Phil Stepp and his wife Fran Stepp, owners, allowed fire science students from Mariposa County High School to come to the dismantling yard and practice vehicle extrication on five different vehicles. The students learned many things, including how to stabilize vehicles, how to use the “jaws of life” and other general safety tips for responding to vehicular accidents.

“Being a firefighter, you have to be a jack of all trades,” said Grizzly Fire instructor Al Brondolo. “We’re able to give them one piece of the pie, which is extrication. It’s a big thing for up here. We do have quite a few vehicle accidents and there are quite a few extrication scenarios.”


MCHS 11th grade student Kaleb Rodriguez is shown in action at the Grizzly Fire program’s auto extrication training day. MCHS 11th grade student Kaleb Rodriguez is shown in action at the Grizzly Fire program’s auto extrication training day. Representatives from CAL FIRE, Mariposa County Fire and Mariposa Public Utility District (MPUD) volunteered their time to oversee the instruction. Students were on site for close to five hours.

A basic auto extrication certification process is close to 32 hours from the state fire marshal’s office, so this was a small sampling of what is required to extricate persons from vehicles.

Students appeared to be engaged and enjoying the morning.

Petter Brange, a senior foreign exchange student from Sweden, said experiencing the firefighting class was completely new.

“There are no schools that let you do fire classes like this in Sweden,” Brange said. “I thought it would be cool to try that opportunity, try something different. I had no idea what I was going into. It’s very hands-on, and I like that.”

Brange has also gained an appreciation for the job firefighters are tasked with.

“Firefighters aren’t recognized as much in Sweden because there are not a lot of fires,” Brange said. “When I got here, I heard about firefighters all the time and about the profession. I get to learn about the job. I realize that it’s a really cool job and I admire people that go into fire service. ... There are a lot of different stuff you learn doing this, that I might be able to take to other jobs, which I’m very grateful to have in my mind.”

Mickie James, a senior, said the class has learned “the core principles of fire service.”

“Firefighting is a field with a lot of honor and a lot of pride,” James said.

Brondolo said one of the benefits of the experience is that it is, in a way, a job interview for the students.

“I tell them every day, ‘These people (who are instructing you) may be on your interview panel,’” Brondolo said.

Providing the experience is a sacrifice for Phil Stepp, who estimated he is giving up a few hundred dollars of scrap value by letting the vehicles be worked on by the students.

But it’s a tradition the Stepps plan to continue.

“We’ll make cars available if I have to go out and buy them and drag them in here,” Stepp said. “Being hands-on like this, there is no greater thing.”

“They’re the primary reason we get to do this,” added Russ Marks, MPUD deputy fire chief, who was on hand.

Fire program building character

One of the main purposes of the Grizzly Fire program at MCHS is to introduce students to basic firefighting.

“We’re trying to get these young high school kids energized and thinking about a career in the fire service,” said Brondolo. “They’re going to know that either they love this stuff or they hate this stuff. ... I’m confident that 90 percent of the kids, when they’re done, they think it was well worth their time and their efforts.”

In Brondolo’s opinion, it’s also important to instill character traits, or “life lessons,” in the students.

“That’s a big thing, is I really work hard at teaching them the respect factor of life,” Brondolo said. “(We teach them) to do the right thing.”

Another important aspect is safety while on the job.

“We’re trying to teach them how to handle themselves,” Brondolo said.

It’s a program which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called “by far the most outstanding fire department I’ve ever seen” during his visit to MCHS in May.

Brondolo credited the students for making it a successful program.

“It’s the kids that make the program,” Brondolo said. “I can lead them, but if they won’t follow, the program wouldn’t be very good. ... I’m very humbled to be a part of this.”

“I’ve had very positive experiences with these classes over the years,” Marks added. “It gives me hope for our future.”

Matt Johnson is Sports and Education Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at matt@mariposagazette.com.

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