The Colusa County Office of Education graduated 16 men and women on Sunday from the fourth annual Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy.
The Class of 2019, cadets of all ages from counties across California, will now be able to pursue careers fighting wildland fires with Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Bureau of Land Management, and local fire agencies.
“This is a very intense 220-hour program that takes place over 10 weekends,” said Mike West, Colusa County Superintendent of Schools.
Joel Berrelleza, Rebecca Campbell, Miguel Diaz-Bernal, Shylo Fults, Hunter Gonzales, Shawn (Green) McKay, Kassidy Harms, Agustus Laws, Cosme Munuoz, Harrison Prince, Matthew Price, Ryan Puckett, Tanner Puckett, Keenan Salaices, Kevin Suttmoeller, Justin Tordesillas, and Joshua Tripp spent the past 10 weeks preparing for a career in fire services.
Cadets received instruction on basic wildland fire operations, communication, hazardous materials, confined space awareness, fire rescue, CPR, and First Aid, among other training.
Jeremiah Karlonas, program coordinator, said he was impressed with this group of new firefighters, who underwent intense classroom instruction in addition to extreme physical training.
“The mental training is harder than the physical,” Karlonas said.
Although some graduates hope to return home and take positions with their local fire departments, either as career firefighters or volunteers, others plan to pursue careers with Cal Fire, which responds to about 7,000 wildfires a year, and employs nearly 8,000 permanent and seasonal firefighters.
“I hope to see many of them this summer helping out on the Cal Fire team,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Tom Knecht.
Shawn McKay, 24, has been building fences and doing other jobs since he graduated from Colusa High School.
With his training behind him, McKay a Colusa Fire Department volunteer, is now ready to secure a permanent job with Cal Fire or fire department.
“I’m going to keep going for both of them,” he said. “But I will always volunteer at my local station.”
Academy officials said cadets greatly supported each other while they were in training. Some had more difficulty with the academics, while others had more difficulty with the physical requirements.
By the end of the 10 weeks, all had exceeded the requirements and each will be a great asset to any fire agency, Karlonas said.
“This is a great opportunity and we need more young people like Shawn,” said Superintendent West, who was McKay’s vice principal at Colusa High School. “He’s going to make a great firefighter.”
The Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy is a joint partnership between the Office of Education, Cal Fire, Colusa County One Stop, Williams and Maxwell Fire departments, and was initially organized in 2016 by Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert to allow cadets to work and support themselves and families while in training.
“This is only one of three academies in the State of California that operates on the weekend,” Gilbert said.
Graduates of the Fourth Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy had a large group of supporters attend the March 17 ceremony.
Family, friends, and firefighters filled the multi-purpose room of the Education Village, in Williams, where the graduation was held.
“We are incredibly proud,” said McKay’s grandmother Irmalee Schumacher, of Colusa. ■