Murrieta Citizen’s Fire Academy fans the flames for students

Members of the 2016 Murrieta Citizen’s Fire Academy learn about ladder truck safety. Joe Fanasalle photo
Members of the 2016 Murrieta Citizen’s Fire Academy learn about ladder truck safety. Joe Fanasalle photo

How many firefighters does it take to put out an ordinary kitchen fire?

Murrieta Fire Chief Scott Ferguson said “15-16 firefighters.”

And how many firefighters are on duty in the city of Murrieta at any given time?

“Just 16 firefighters,” he said.

Participants in the Murrieta Fire and Rescue Department Citizen’s Fire Academy will learn this tidbit of information and much more during the eight-week citizens’ course, which kicked off Wednesday, Aug. 9.

They will learn about everything from history of the fire department, which was founded in 1947, well before the city incorporated in 1991, to actual fire department procedures, Murrieta Fire Department management analyst Dawn Morrison said Wednesday.

“They get to hear a little bit about the sexy stuff, the things that you see and you feel and you experience, all the way down to the reality, which is much of what we do is business,” Ferguson said.

The academy consists of eight 3-hour long classes, broken up into a lecture component and an interactive component in which citizens will be able to get out in the field wearing actual fire department gear. The academy also includes food for participants.

“We try to nourish their minds and their bodies,” Morrison said.

And there’s a lot of information to pack into eight weeks.

“It’s a short academy,” Ferguson said. “We say that we kind of cater to the ADHD, right, short, quick, hit ‘em with information, get ‘em out and let ‘em try it on.”

For the first class, participants are asked to go through the back of the classroom to find adequate-fitting bunker gear before going through a course set up behind the fire station.

Participants are divided into groups of five, before proceeding through a course involving hose-dragging, fire extinguisher training and emergency medical services training.

“And so they’re gonna have five people, and they’re gonna figure out how they’re gonna do it, who’s gonna do it,” Ferguson said. “It’ll be interesting to hear about their communication, then we’re gonna ask them to journal it afterward. ‘What’d you learn?’ Real simple.”

There’s a lot of teamwork involved.

“You throw a ladder, maybe you’re not tall enough, so you don’t have the leverage, so you have to work with somebody else in order to make it happen,” Ferguson said.

For the last day of the course, participants will be put through a traditional muster or a competition in which each group will be competing against each other for the best time in different events.

“Everything from pulling hose to knocking cones over with water to climbing ladders, even a bucket brigade,” Ferguson said.

There are a few high-profile members at the 2017 Citizen’s Fire Academy. Murrieta City Manager Kim Summers, as well as the assistant city manager, finance director and administrative services director are all taking part in the class.

While there are limited spaces, the course is not only open to Murrieta residents. The department tries to makes space for some out-of-towners, too, Ferguson said.

This year’s citizen’s academy is only the second time it’s been put on by the Murrieta Fire Department. The point, Ferguson said, is to educate Murrieta residents on what the fire department really does.

“They know that we go on fires. They know what they see on TV,” Ferguson, a third-generation firefighter, said. “Now, it’s evolved into what we consider all-risk. Depending on how you calculate things, we’re anywhere from 70 to 80-some-odd percent EMS medical calls,” he said. The fire department recently changed its official name to “Murrieta Fire and Rescue,” because of the shift in calls.

The citizen’s fire academy is a chance for the fire department to show that while the department has evolved, it’s continuing to build upon what it started in 1947, including the “neighbors helping neighbors” motto, Ferguson said.

And it’s not just one-way communication, he said.

“I’m also asking the question, what do you expect out of this? Maybe there are some opportunities in that eight weeks that we’ll learn about more what we can do or alter the way that we conduct business,” he said. “The truth is they are taxpayers and voters, they make decisions, and we need to do a better job of educating them.”

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