The Colusa County Office of Education graduated 29 men and women from counties across California on Sunday who are now eligible to pursue careers fighting wildland fires with CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service, or the federal Bureau of Land Management.
The Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy’s graduating class just spent 10 weekends totaling more than 200 hours learning how to fight wildfire in rugged terrain, as well as in structures and confined spaces.
The program is a valuable partnership between the Office of Education, CalFire, Colusa County One Stop, and the local fire departments, said Superintendent of Schools Mike West.
“The program was proposed three years ago by Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert,” West said. “He’s been one of our biggest cheerleaders since it started.”
Jeremiah Karlonas, program coordinator, said he was impressed with this group of new firefighters, who underwent extreme physical training in addition to classroom instruction.
“They all stepped up and made sure everyone passed together,” Karlonas said. “They’ve taken the first step in long careers in fire service.”
Although some graduates hope to return home and take positions with their local fire departments, either as career firefighters or volunteers, others plan to pursuit careers with CalFire, which responds to about 7,000 wildfires a year, and employs nearly 8,000 permanent and seasonal firefighters.
Garrett Brainard, 20, of Arbuckle, a 2016 graduate of Pierce High School, plans to make firefighting a lifelong career, as did his grandfather (former Williams Fire Chief Everett Brainard) and great-grandfather.
“I want to help my community, but I think it would also be kind of cool to find a job in a large fire department in a big city,” said Brainard, who balances working with studying fire sciences at Butte College.
Cristy Stocking, 32, of Winters, gave up a career in nursing to pursue her dream of becoming a career firefighter.
Stocking, a volunteer firefighter in Dunnigan, was one of four females who received their wildland certification on Sunday. She did extremely well in the academy, and has a job offer from the Winters Fire Department.
“Firefighting is the best job in the entire world,” Stocking said. “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do it. It’s something new and exciting every day.”
Graduates of the third Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy had the largest group of supporters attend the ceremony since the program started, officials said. Family, friends and firefighters filled the multi-purpose room of the Education Village, where the graduation was held.
“I woke this morning and I was in tears – and I’m still crying,” said Brainard’s mother, Meredith. “I am more than proud. He put everything into this. He was in it to win it.”
“Everybody here was supportive of these kids,” said Chief Gilbert, during the ceremony. “A lot of people made this happen.”■