When a call comes in to the UC Davis Fire Department, help is only a couple minutes away — and sometimes some of the first responders are students.
At any given time, the department has 15 student firefighters, who live at the station and get firsthand experience going on calls, train with other staff, and, after two years, earn certifications that prepare them to enter the work force.
“The Student Firefighter Program is a valuable part of our department’s rich 100-year history and allows us to stay closely connected with our student population," Chief Nate Trauernicht said. “It provides a unique educational experience in alignment with the university’s mission, and gives real-world exposure to those interested in pursuing a career in firefighting, medicine or emergency services."
The department takes new students into the program every two years, and applications are now being accepted. No previous experience is required; the deadline to apply is Feb. 28.
Most student firefighters start the two-year program as sophomores, but some start earlier and stay longer.
Engineer Kyle Dubs '10 said the program helped him decide to be a firefighter after graduation.
"Once I went through the academy and got picked up, I thought — 'OK, this is a pretty cool job,'" he said. "This is what I want to do."
He's worked for the campus Fire Department ever since and is now a co-coordinator of the Student Firefighter Program.
Engineer Braden Burrhus said serving as the other co-coordinator of the program is what keeps him at the Fire Department. He said he tries to teach students the kinds of things he wanted to learn as a new recruit.
"They leave this program essentially qualified to get hired on somewhere else (or at the campus Fire Department)," Burrhus said.
Davis is now the only UC campus with a fire department (the city of Santa Cruz Fire Department absorbed the UC Santa Cruz department in 2014), and it has a history of having students as part of the firefighting force dating back to 1917 when UC Davis was still the University Farm.
After a summer afternoon practicing using the Jaws of Life to cut open a car, Ari Wargon said the program connects with what he's learning as a mechanical engineering major.
"The things I learn about in class, I see in use," he said, noting what he's learning about where to apply force to extricate a victim.
Wargon said the program has changed his mind about his future.
"I didn't originally come to school and think I'd want to be a firefighter," he said. "The more I've been in it, the more I've wanted to go down that road. Going out and helping people — it's a really admirable thing; it makes you feel good."
He recalled a recent rollover car crash where he tried to calm the car's occupants. "The victims inside were so thankful we were able to get there as quickly as we could," he said.
Nick White, a senior managerial economics major, compared the team aspect of the program to playing a sport, and said it was a way for him to test out a possible career path.
"It was a way to get experience and see if it's what I really wanted to do," he said.
Now, he's sure it is.