By Lauren Foliart
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Santa Cruz is no stranger to the threat of fire. The summer fires of 2008 are still fresh in mind and as the one-year anniversary gets closer, community members jump at opportunities to be better prepared to fight fires.

In February, Central Coast firefighters received three separate grants for fire protection and prevention. Among the recipients was the Central Fire Protection District of Santa Cruz County, which gained $256,000 to aid training, health, and safety programs.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted the county money through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.

AFG has provided roughly $2.8 billion to first-responder groups across the country since 2004, and works to provide sufficient health and safety training for firefighters.

Congressman Sam Farr, who represents the 17th District of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties, has been a longtime supporter of first-responders and played a significant role in making sure these programs received the grant.

“The first-responders are a very important piece of the community,” said Tom Mentzer, Farr’s press secretary. “They always are, the police and fire departments, and that’s why Congressman Farr supported this program for so many years. We need to make sure they have the funds they need to protect the communities.”

The grant money will go to purchase a simulation trailer, which will be used as a tool to train firefighters.

Bruce Clark, fire chief at Central Fire Protection District of Santa Cruz, explained how the department will use the grant money with great excitement and enthusiasm.

“Normally what we would do is find an old building and set fire to it, but the problem with that is the close proximity and the exposure to smoke and toxins, and the air quality management issue of polluting the air and the environment,” he said.

The trailer uses natural gases, and is much safer for firefighters to use because it is equipped with automatic shutoff systems in case one of the trainees gets into a dangerous situation.

“We’re very grateful to Congressman Sam Farr and FEMA for helping us protect our firefighters and providing this money for us,” Clark said. “Because otherwise, in this rough economic time, we would not be able to afford this.”

In addition to the simulation trailer, local firefighters are constantly encouraging residents in the community to be prepared for fires.

Local fire departments, including the UC Santa Cruz fire headquarters, offer many training classes and programs. In a town where fires can start at the drop of a pin, it can’t hurt to be prepared for the worst.

While most who attend the UCSC courses are required to do so because of their campus jobs as resident advisers or OPERS employees, the classes are open to anyone looking to become more informed and practiced in fire safety training.

“Mostly student staff attends these classes,” said UCSC Fire Captain Ron Brookes. “All the OPERS staff have to go through the first aid training, and we provide that for them. From time to time we might have individual students who have a summer job that requires them to be trained in first aid or CPR.”

The UC community has access to multiple levels of protection education, ranging from CPR and first aid to fire extinguishing.

“We also have a CERT training program, which is Community Emergency Response Training, and that’s offered on request basis,” Brookes said. “It teaches people to function in a situation where the first-responders might be delayed because of the scale of the disaster, such as a giant earthquake.”

Ultimately, first-responders will be the ones who come in and utilize their training to control the situation. But in a forest community like Santa Cruz, it is hard to tell where an emergency situation might happen.

“[Our] training is a little too advanced for the community,” Clark said. “But the educational purposes it can serve firefighters is in how to use both advanced training and community training in conjunction with each other, providing more protection and awareness.”

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