Jack of all trades: Firefighters serve the community in more ways than just one

By Hadia Chaudhry and Eden Ovadia

In the past few months, various areas in California have faced the destruction of ravenous wildfires and deadly mudslides.

These disasters grew to become some of the worst wildfires the state of California has seen. One that will live in infamy is the Thomas fire, which broke out on December 7, 2017. Recorded as the largest to date, the massive wildfire consumed Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In these same areas, many flash floods and mudslides occurred as well due to the sudden onslaught of rain in January.

In times such as these, when lives and homes are being destroyed, civilians often have little to do. Thankfully, there are special groups of brave people who dare to face these intimidating disasters.

We owe it to the firefighters, the strong men and women who constantly train and prepare in order to ensure our safety during life-threatening situations such as the Thomas fire.

However thankful residents may be for these heroic people, many are often unaware of how difficult it is to become a firefighter, which has extensive requirements and years of schooling and training.

According to firefighter Ian Van Gerpen from Station 70, located on Reseda Boulevard, most firefighters have a bachelor’s degree in any major of their choice, although most choose to major in fire science, and receive training as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Many are also paramedics, meaning they have an additional three years of training.

“We have a very complicated job. Twenty, thirty years ago when firefighters came to work, they put out fires and that is all they did. Now we are paramedics, [and] we can do everything an emergency doctor can do,” Van Gerpen said.

As much as firefighters prepare for natural disasters, they also aid in many situations that do not seem like conventional firefighter responsibilities. Van Gerpen described the various circumstances a typical firefighter might assist with.

“We also deal with [hazardous material] situations. We deal with urban search and rescue, so we are all specialized in ropes and knots. Basically if there is a problem, you name it, [and] we respond to it. If there is a gas leak, we respond to it; if there is a water leak, we respond to it; if there is a hydro leak, we shut it down,” Van Gerpen said.

Regardless, when firefighters are deployed for a natural disaster, their outlook towards their job is undoubtedly positive. Van Gerpen said that being in a dire situation is exciting and that it feels nice to be able to help people.

“Today, we tested all the fire hydrants in the district for the last four to five hours, and then we went to the community outreach program to help elementary schools at a pancake breakfast. On weekends, we drill and train for when there are big disasters,” Van Gerpen said.

Whether they are saving civilians from burning buildings, testing fire equipment, or simply helping out at a pancake breakfast, we owe a great deal of gratitude to firefighters and all the work they do to keep civilians safe.

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