Participation pays off for aspiring Calif. firefighters

By Jennifer Whitaker
The Press Enterprise (California) 
Copyright 2006 The Press Enterprise, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

The Fire Explorer program at Moreno Valley Fire Station 6, which teaches teens about firefighting, awarded eight scholarships.

Winners, all Moreno Valley residents ages 15 to 18, include Kyle Helms, who received $1,575; Zack Gomez, who received $1,325; Andrew Reyes, who received $1,075; Anthony Ramos, who got $860; Chris Martin, who received $730; Ernesto Flores, who was awarded $530; and John Bodadilla and Ralph Rocha, who each got $430.

The almost $7,000 in scholarships were awarded based on interviews, attendance, participation, an essay, school grade-point average, and number of years with the program.

The honors were handed out by Riverside County interim Fire Chief Tom O'Keefe at a June 27 dinner.

"It's such a positive program," O'Keefe said. "Whether . . . these young men and women become firefighters or not, I think they'll benefit from this exposure to public service."

Gomez, 18, said the Explorer program is about getting his foot in the door and seeing what the day-to-day life of a firefighter is like.

He plans to train to be a firefighter and will use the scholarship for that. He has wanted to be a firefighter since he was 5 years old.

The money is to be used for fire education. Explorers can use the money to purchase equipment such as gear bags or boots or for classes and class materials that have been approved by the program.

Chris Kemp, the station's captain who heads the program, said the scholarships are designed to help youth in the program get ahead.

"By the time they're 18, they're three years ahead of those that are graduating from the same class, and they know what they want to do," Kemp said.

Station 6's program is the only county Explorer program to offer scholarships, which it has been doing for about three years.

The money for the scholarships was raised by Explorers and their families with the help of sponsors such as NASCAR and Wal-Mart. 

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