On the path to fight fires

A pair of Rocklin High students train to become firefighters
By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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For two Rocklin High students, they don’t mind the heat. In fact, they are drawn to it and are on their way to turning their infatuation with fire into careers as firefighters. Christopher Africa and Eric Kassis, who are both seniors at Rocklin High, are on the path to fight fires and hope to work in a Northern California fire station after their June graduations. Firefighting isn’t something that runs in their families — neither have relatives in firefighting careers, they said. But both admitted their fascination with the hot stuff began at an early age. Since entering high school, the two have enrolled in Regional Occupational Program, which is more commonly referred to as ROP, worked at local fire stations and received first-hand training. And possibly most importantly, they have learned their way around the kitchen. Christopher Africa Africa said he’s always known he wanted to go into firefighting. “Since I was little, never a doubt,” he said. Being the first in his family to follow the firefighting route, Africa said his parents are very supportive. “They’ve been behind me the whole time,” he said. Africa is currently working his way up the ladder – he’s enrolled in EMT and other medical-related classes at Sierra College and previously interned at Station 77 in unincorporated Lincoln. His first day as an intern, Africa said he was asked if he’d be staying for dinner. Not sure if he was allowed to, he agreed, only to find out he’d be cooking for the crew. He admitted he’d never spent much time in the kitchen, but learned quickly, he said. Typically people think of meat and potatoes served at a fire station, but Africa said that isn’t always the case. “If the captain likes to eat healthy, they’re all going to eat healthy,” he said. His internship included upkeep and maintenance work and Africa said he also went on call to help put out with containing multiple fires. “It was really a cool experience, the adrenaline takes over,” he said. As soon as Africa hits the age of 18, he’s eligible to be hired as a seasonal firefighter, he said. And until then, he’s splitting his time at Rocklin High School and Sierra College, preparing for a career fighting fires. Eric Kassis “You think of a fire as chaos, but everything is so structured, everyone keeps their cool,” Kassis said. Kassis is currently interning at a fire station in Auburn where he receives hands-on training such as practicing throwing ladders, pulling and running hose lines, cardio work and keeping the station clean, he said. But he’s also been on some interesting calls – one of which included trekking half a mile down a trail to transport a body. “You want to feel compassion, but at the same time, it’s your job and you’ve got a job to do,” he said. Six days a week, Kassis’ life revolves around pursuing his career goal, he said. “I quit my (other) job for this,” he said. “But they’re the sacrifices I’m willing to make.” Currently, he’s also enrolled in ROP at Rocklin High, where he gets hands-on experience at no cost. “To go in and get this training and experience for free, we’ve taken so much from it (the program),” he said. For Kassis, a career as a firefighter combines his fascination with trucks with working with people and the work environment. “Overall it’s just for the experience, it’s not being in the office everyday.” Part of his experience, like Africa, has been in the kitchen, helping with cooking and cleaning, he said, but he doesn’t seem to mind much. “That’s (dinner) probably the most special part of the day,” he said.