The seven members of the Soboba Fire Explorers recently earned their certification for completing a 24-hour long Vehicle Extrication course, which included two 10-hour days of hands-on instruction. This is the second certification they have had the opportunity to earn since the inception of the program about a year ago. Most of the current Explorers, who range in age from 13 to 18, have been enrolled since it began.
Soboba Fire Explorers Abigail Arres, Kuamai Banks, Ronnie Morillo, Wayne Nelson, Raya Salgado, Rhianna Salgado, Levi Herrera and Daniel Valdez Jr. worked with training Capt. Howard Maxcy Jr. and lead instructor Capt. Curtis Carter to complete approximately four hours of classroom instruction before putting the lessons to real-life application.
Ronnie is the newest Explorer, and he said the class time was spent learning the identification of each tool and piece of equipment and understanding what each one does.
Soboba partners with Valley Auto Salvage and Castellano’s Towing to have salvage vehicles towed to the station on the Soboba Indian Reservation for use during these exercises, which took place March 25 and 26. Many Soboba Fire crew members came in on their weekend off to assist with the training.
Before ever taking turns at cutting and spreading doors, hoods, roofs and other parts of a wrecked vehicle, students were taught how to quickly assess a collision scene for possible hazards. They learn about all the parts of a car that can explode, how to look for dangerous fluid leaks and to determine the best way to access trapped passengers.
“We spent half a day on teaching these important steps as well as stabilization, which is the first thing they need to do at the scene of a collision,” Maxcy said. “We teach why safety is the biggest part of any rescue operation.”
Maxcy explained to the Explorers that the goal is to safely extricate the patient or patients to an area where it is safe to work on them. If a vehicle is on fire, that danger needs to be mitigated first. Carter explained that gas struts can become projectiles and a firefighter has to get under the hood to cut the battery (power) so airbags are less likely to deploy.
Abigail, 17, said once she got to actually work on the cars, the classroom lessons made a lot more sense. Raya, 13, agreed. She said being able to bring the lessons to life was very helpful. They were also able to call on some of the things they had learned from a prior Emergency Medical Services course which taught them some of the basics.
Anyone seeking the State Fire Marshal Certificate for Vehicle Extrication receives the exact same training the Soboba Fire Explorers received. “This is the same course taught at any fire department in California,” Carter said. “Nothing deviated from the course that every individual takes. Capt. Maxcy likes to advance the skills and knowledge of all the Explorers and they are ready.”
Carter said all the Explorers were grasping the concepts and asking good questions. “They understand the mechanics of the tools and how much it takes to stay fit and strong,” he said. “This is my first time teaching this course to Explorers and they are so enthusiastic. I don’t talk down to them or change the approach that I always use with any professional firefighter.”
Daniel, 16, said, “What I found to be interesting about the training I received was the fact that you can take apart a vehicle very easily with the correct equipment. That’s what really surprised me the most.”
Carter could tell the students had absorbed all the in-class instruction by the way they handled themselves during the hands-on practicum they did with several vehicles in various degrees of destruction. “The most important thing they can learn is reading the wreck,” he said. “It’s all about what a wreck tells you. If possible, a paramedic will go inside the vehicle to take care of a patient first. The firefighters then need to disengage the car from the patient, not the patient from the car.”
Rhianna, 15, said having everybody team up and try to communicate with each other helped her realize the importance of working together and keeping safe.
Wayne, 13, is one of the Explorers who learned about the program through a TANF work experience program. “It helps us try out different careers and this one has given me some good experience so far,” he said. Abigail also had her first exposure to fire service through TANF’s WE LEAD program.
Kuamai, 18, said being part of the Explorers has been a valuable experience. “I’m getting closer to that stage of pursuing this as a career. Doing this is really helping me out.”
Carter spent 20 years at a fire station in Santa Fe Springs before joining Soboba Fire about three and a half years ago. The youths are fortunate to have willing and able instructors to teach them what they need to know about the industry.
Soboba Fire Chief Glenn Patterson said, “The curriculum we use provides the members with basic firefighting skills along with life skills needed to be successful in any career field. They train with the on-duty crew as well as learn about firefighters’ life at the station with cooking, cleaning, studying and many other things.” He said during all their trainings they engage with the on-duty crew, giving them exposure to different mentors who have specific skills and experiences that they can share with the Explorers.
The group meets every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Soboba Fire Station where they go through various drills and exercises while learning why each one is important and when it is used during an actual fire call.
They recently completed another certification course: Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior, known as S-190. This is a foundational course that introduces students to the basic concepts of wildland fire behavior. It covers fire environmental components; how fuels, weather and topography affect fire behavior; and how fire behavior affects risk to firefighters.
“The course wasn’t difficult, but it really made me realize how you have to constantly think about everything that’s going on that can affect the fire,” Abigail said. Rhianna added, “And how everything can change in an instant; you have to always be flexible.”
Kuamai said he was grateful to have been able to take the Vehicle Extrication certification course because it doesn’t come around too often and especially not for youths to be able to take it. He said being in the program motivates him in school to keep his grades up and make good decisions. “Being a firefighter teaches us discipline and points us in the right direction to have the integrity to do the best you can when no one’s watching,” he said.
Daniel said, “Being an Explorer has shown me so many skills for my personal life, like helping others. We, as Explorers, have taken time out of our personal lives to help the community with some of their public events.”
He said going into the fire industry is one route he may take after high school because being in this program has shown him what it’s like being a firefighter and all the things that they go through. However, he aspires to continue his education at either the University of Nevada, Las Vegas or San Diego State University. “No matter which route I decide to take, I just know that I will somehow be giving back to my community,” Daniel said.
Rhianna said being in the program motivates her to make healthy decisions in her life. “I like how it also teaches you to be respectful and make the right choices,” she said. “And you learn life skills you will never lose.”
Wayne said he shares what he learns with friends and family because they can find the knowledge useful, too.
Abigail said being an Explorer helps her a lot with structure for school assignments and personal projects. Raya said being part of the Explorers has given her a different perspective on many things at school and in her personal life.
All the Explorers, except one, are members of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians. Kuamai is from Pala and Barona and his father was in the fire academy with Capt. Maxcy. “I basically grew up in a firehouse and I’ve always liked it,” Kuamai said.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians