Sweetwater High School in National City is training the next generation of firefighters.
The high school is one of the few in the district to house a fire academy.
Sweetwater’s fire academy is a two and a half year program that starts with students learning the basics such as an introduction to fire science, the history of the fire service and structure.
Once they have the basics down, they then are taught how to conduct firefighter drills and missions as if they were actual firefighters.
“We do a lot of hands-on training,” said teacher Michael Diaz. “The hands-on training gives them the reality factor.”
From ride-alongs with the National City Fire Department to doing search and rescue drills, Diaz wants to make sure the 16 students in his elective class gain real life experiences, so if they decide to become firefighters after their high school years they will already be equipped with the skills and knowledge to succeed.
“We don’t teach them to be firefighters, all we’re doing is scratching the surface and saying ‘This is what the fire service is about,’” Diaz said. “We just scratch the surface so when they go out to the academy they know what to do.”
And every Friday, Diaz pushes the limit on his students by having them do physical training exercises and activities.
Diaz said he wants to make sure the high school juniors and seniors in his class are in tip-top shape because the fire service is very physical.
This also prepares them for the physical agility testing, a test that has to be passed to become a firefighter.
Other skills that the students learn are auto extraction, hose lays and repelling.
Most of the activities are done on campus, but Diaz also has the kids pay a visit to several fire stations in the county.
To be eligible for the academy, students must first take certain classes relating to the medical and fire field.
Once they get to their senior year they will then decide if they want to pursue the medical or fire pathway.
Diaz said the only cost affiliated with the class is for workout shorts and the academy T-shirt, which is about $24.
But Diaz said he seeks donors so that his students won’t foot the bill.
Diaz, 56, is a retired Escondido firefighter who is now passing on his expertise to future firefighters.
“For me to step out of the fire service and go ‘I’m retired, I’ll never do it again,’ it’s kind of hard,” he said. “So it allows me to stay in touch and also to give back.”
The city of National City supports the program, Diaz said.
Recently the city donated a fire engine to the program allowing students to do hosing drills.
“With the introduction of the fire engine we would be able to show students how to lay line from the fire hydrant to the fire,” he said. “Before we couldn’t do that; all we could do was show them a picture.”
National City Fire Marshall Robert Hernandez, who helped create the program more than a decade ago, said he is happy to see the program still serving future firefighters.
Hernandez also that said by his observation of the students he is impressed with the skills they have learned.
“We are pleasantly surprised to see their abilities,” he said. “They perform under pressure, they’re able to manipulate the hose, apparatuses and equipment in a safe and efficient manner.”
Diaz said funding for the equipment comes from Regional Occupation Program and state funding.
He also said a $50,000 grant from the California Partnership Academies is awarded to the high school that has to be split between its programs.
Diaz also gets donations from different agencies in the county.
National City Mayor Ron Morrison said the city of National City donates resources to the program because he knows that these kids can one day help put out a fire in the city.
“One of the great benefits that would come out of that program is that we would have more local hires for our firefighters,” he said.