Murrieta Fire and Rescue kicks off Citizen’s Fire Academy

Attendees of Murrieta Fire and Rescue’s Citizen’s Fire Academy watch a video about the fire department during the first night of the seven-week course that teaches residents the ins and outs of what the fire department does every day Wednesday, Aug. 21. The group will meet each Wednesday night for about three hours. Jeff Pack photo

Some people signed up to attend Murrieta Fire and Rescue’s seven-week Citizen’s Fire Academy out of curiosity. Others did it for experience and understanding.

Still, others did it for the challenge.

“I’m a bored housewife,” Stacey Kerr of Murrieta said, laughing. “No, I climb mountains. I go to the gym. I’m like ‘hey, this sounds like a challenge.’ It fascinates me, the physicality of the job of the firefighter. I want to see what they do.”

During the next six weeks, she will have the opportunity, because the more than two dozen residents were are grouped into six teams that will go through a training and education program that promises to be challenging.

They will learn department operations and training, emergency medical services, fire communications, fire prevention, go on fire station and fleet tours and learn special operations and technical rescue, while learning all about Murrieta Fire and Rescue.

“We expose the citizens to basically how the fire service works,” EMS coordinator Jennifer Antonucci said. “Everything from auto extrication to building construction to emergency medical systems. The whole gamut.”

At the end of the program, the teams will compete in what firefighters call a “muster.”

“The muster is basically, it’s a competition,” Antonucci said. “As you can see they’re broken up into their engine companies just like our firefighters are working for their engine companies. At the end, we basically have them do like an obstacle course competition and then the best two teams compete and in what we call the ‘battle royale’ where they have to take a water hose and try to get a ball into the other team’s area. So it’s a lot of fun.”

The Citizen’s Academy Muster and Graduation will take place Oct. 5.

Murrieta Fire and Rescue’s management analyst Dawn Morrison was responsible for putting the program together and welcomed the crowd to the first class.

“I hope you guys have a lot of fun, as I shared with you in my email, you are now officially our largest class,” Morrison said. “This is one of my favorite academies; we do several a year. Our fire family grows now by 32 every year. So, we welcome you to our family.”

Fire chief David Lantzer welcomed the group and led the engine group captains through their first personnel accountability report, teaching them the first lesson of the program.

As dinner was served to the attendees, retired deputy fire chief Pat Jennings, talked about the history of the fire department in Murrieta.

Included in the class is Valerie Backus, a CTE coordinator with the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, who is coordinating a fire science program at Murrieta Valley High School. Several other educators are enrolled in the academy as well.

According to Backus, more than 100 students are enrolled in the elective classes.

“The Murrieta Fire and Rescue has donated two fire engines, truckloads of tools, as well as (former fire chief) Scott Ferguson’s consulting expertise,” Backus said. “We’re working with (Mt. San Jacinto College) to align what we’re doing. It’s logical that that’s one exit route for our students to get into this career. It’s not the only thing, there are other ways students can leverage what we’re doing in the high school to go into different routes as well.”

“This is our inaugural kickoff class for 2019 and this is the first year that it’s an elective (at the high school),” Morrison said. “We’re very excited about that.”

When asked what fire department hoped attendees would walk away with after the program is completed in October, Antonucci indicated it was mostly an understanding of what the fire department does on a daily basis to keep residents safe.

“That they have an understanding of how the fire service actually works and what the firemen and firefighters do to protect the citizens and provide the service to them,” she said. “And everything that (firefighters) have to know and understand. And that (firefighters) don’t just sit in recliners during the day.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at