At Allan Hancock College’s Fire Academy, Battalion 146 recently went through some intense rescue scenarios.
“Help a brother out. Come on,” shouted an instructor.
The person responsible for training the future firefighters is academy coordinator Andy Densmore, who has been in this industry for almost four decades and is retiring at the end of this year.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “We have to make the change.”
Changes due to COVID-19.
Since the pandemic hit, academy class sizes have been cut by a third, cadets are screened before they enter the facilities, they socially distance themselves once they’re in and wear masks when they’re not in face pieces.
“The nice part is we asked these kids for their commitment the first day that we meet them and we said, ‘there’s only one variable in this entire program and it’s you,’” Densmore said.
As Densmore’s career comes to a close during this crisis, Camila Schafer, class president of Battalion 146, is just starting hers.
“Whether it’s a pandemic, it’s a fire, it’s a surf rescue, we’ll answer that call,” she said.
Schafer says instructors can control all aspects of a cadet’s day while on campus but once they leave the academy, however, cadets are committed to an individual responsibility.
“On weekends, we’re studying. we’re hitting the books,” she said. “We’re making sure that we’re not out there putting our battalion in jeopardy and possibly getting this virus.”
Employment of firefighters is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistcs.
While this fire academy is training with new challenges, Densmore believes smaller class sizes could make cadets like Schafer better prepared than firefighters of the past.
“We don’t graduate mediocre,” he said. “Our standards are really, really high. And we exceed what the state requires."