Senior Codi Carroll works with Atascadero firefighters as part of the Cadet program. Photo contributed
Biannually, the Atascadero Fire & Emergency Services hosts a unique after-school cadet program called Fire Cadets. Two high school seniors are hired as volunteers and are given the opportunity to receive first-hand knowledge about and on the job training in the fire services.
Cadets are given a wide range of responsibilities, such as cleaning the station and engines, responding to medical calls, and assisting with different kinds of fire-related incidents. Cadets are treated as volunteer firefighters, and the same expectations apply. They spend their after school time from 1 to 5 p.m. working at their assigned stations.
When the program was first founded in 1987, the current Chief of the Atascadero Fire Services, Bill White, became the first fire cadet. The current cadet coordinator, Alex Gentily, has been in the fire service since he was 16 years old as a fire cadet, and then got hired at age 18. Gentily's cadet experience not only gave him the opportunity to start working at the station at a young age, but helped him get promoted to Engineer earlier than most. Even as a cadet, Alex was touted to be one of Atascadero’s finest. Gentily would spend the first hour of each day throwing his turnouts, or fire protective gear, and became faster than even the most seasoned of firefighters.
In normal situations, it is very difficult to get permanently hired at a fire department. The competition for those positions is fierce. Just to be hired on as a part time volunteer, a candidate must have an EMT certification and have gone through the firefighter academy. The cadet program gives young adults interested in the fire service an opportunity to start early and see, first hand, if that is the career they truly want to prepare for before they invest their time and money at the academy. Once the semester is completed, cadets are given a certification of completion that can set them above so many others in such a competitive field. When departments have to hire on a new seasonal or full-time firefighter, they will usually give special consideration if a cadet from the same city applied.
The Fire Cadets Program is a unique opportunity for high school students to prepare for a future career actually working in that field before attending their secondary education. The unique and historic partnership between the Atascadero Fire Department and Atascadero High School is sure to produce excellent future firefighters who might be able to serve the community they grew up in.