CALEXICO — Esteban Hernandez wanted to help his hometown of Calexico. That was his goal when he sought to become a paramedic firefighter with the Calexico Fire Department.
“I want to be the guy who takes care of my friends’ parents and the community I grew up in,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez and two others have been a part of the Imperial Valley College’s Paramedic program since August of 2019, learning the ins and outs to earn their paramedic training certification as well as their fire certification.
It has taken a year of study to get through the training for the three interns at the Calexico Fire Department. That included hours of classwork, semester long lectures condensed into a few weeks, and hands-on training. However, the toughest months of the program are the ones spent working on a fire shift at a fire house as an intern, giving the paramedic interns (PMI) experience on a fire shift and the hands-on, quick, on-the-fly training they will need, according to Calexico Fire Captain Eddie Inza.
Though COVID-19 caused changes to be made to the academy, including the possibility of closure, they powered through their programs. Hernandez said they got a small break from school due to the confusion caused by the pandemic, but it was hard work to help take on the COVID cases in the Imperial Valley.
“We left school, but it wasn’t a break because it was to tackle COVID-19 calls and things like that. It’s been tough, but I feel we are grateful for having been able to finish the program and finish up strong,” said Hernandez.
One of their final gestures to the shift they have worked is to cook dinner for their co-workers and mentors as a thank you for the last two months of the internship.
It is a simple affair — or as simple as the interns want to make it — and helps wrap up a year of experience for the interns. It also gives them the opportunity to take stock and hear from their peers and mentors at the end of their program. Hernandez said it is like being told that you passed.
According to Inza, the tradition is something fire houses have done for years and is upheld at the Calexico fire house for as long as he can remember. Inza and other firefighters did the same program and cooked the same meal the three interns will.
Inza said the final meal preparation is a happy time that caps off the experience the students have had during the internship. It is a time to destress after all the pressure of being on the job and going through real life and death situations that test the future recruits.
“There is going to be some serious relief for those interns who have been under pressure, especially from the didactic of the in-class portion,” said Inza. “It’s a culmination of their academic studies and they have to put that together with the manipulative skills.”
At the time of this article, two of the three interns completed their meal with their shift.
Hernandez finished his final shift not too long ago and has cooked the last meal, a tri-tip and cheesy potatoes affair for his co-workers.
“It felt really nice to be able to do that for the shift because they deserve it as well,” said Hernandez. “I know I’m the guy in the hot seat, but without their support and their help none, of this would be possible.”
For Hernandez, finishing the long year is the next step in becoming a firefighter in his hometown and helping those he grew up with. He plans to continue on at the Calexico Fire Department where he feels there is a lot of opportunity waiting for him.