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Firefighting 101 - Training Benefits Reserves, Department
In an era of continuing budget cuts and constraints, Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District is among those organizations utilizing reserves as a way to fill the gap.

Reserve firefighters are those that live outside the district, are eager for a way to practice their chosen craft as they look for fulltime work in the field, and earn a small stipend for their efforts. They are also required to put in a specific amount of hours per month to maintain that reserve status.

"In recent months we've brought on four new reserves," said Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello. "Their minimum requirement is 48 hours a month, they work those hours however they want."

Some will cover a couple of 24-hour shifts, others will put in a straight 48 hours at the Coley Avenue station, while still others break it down into eight - to 10-hour chunks of time.

The newest reserves on the fire department rolls are Ryan Strasser of Modesto, Josh Sandoval of Ceres, Miguel Padilla of Dublin and Michael Franzi of French Camp. Strasser, Sandoval and Franzi all attended the Modesto Fire Academy, Padilla attended Chabot Fire Academy.

"Typically, we have three fulltime personnel on duty, a battalion chief and two firefighters," explained Mello. "When we have a reserve on, that helps us meet that 'two in, two out' commitment for structure fires."

Having the reserves on board allows the department more flexibility and provides that measure of safety, especially on structure fires, with two department members entering a structure and two on the outside for support and assistance.

Mello said Monday seems to be one of the busiest days for reserves to suit up and show up, and that works well since that is the department's primary training day.

"Our first Monday of the month is safety, the second and third Mondays, training topics range from medical situations to river rescues."

Three reserves were on duty on one recent day, working a number of annual fire inspections of businesses with fulltime firefighter Mike Rebensdorf. Those assisting were Jason Hernandez, a two-year reserve out of Manteca; Sandoval, from Ceres and Mason Vickers of Acampo, who has been with the department about a year and a half.

"I like getting the knowledge of what it takes to be a firefighter," said Hernandez. "I'm learning a lot of good stuff."

For Sandoval, one of the newer reserves, the variety is what appeals to him.

"I like the job, it's something different, something new every day," Sandoval said.

Vickers, whose 'real' job is in an upholstery shop, is among those that wants to eventually get into firefighting fulltime, whenever the opportunity arises.

"That's the goal," he said. "Wherever I can get."

The trio assisted Rebensdorf with the inspections, making sure fire extinguishers were up to date, wiring met various codes and fire exits were properly marked.

"We have a checklist, everything from electrical to exit to the fire alarms, storage of flammable liquids," explained Rebensdorf.

They had three inspections and one re-inspection on the list for that day, in addition to being available to respond to EMS (emergency medical service) and fire calls.

Other Escalon reserve firefighters are Travis Chamberlain, Jason Fuzie, Drew Newell and Ray Whittler.

The volunteers, those who live in Escalon and also put in a specific number of hours but are not paid per shift, include Bob Rocha, Dave Velasco, Travis Bonds, Nate Keyser, Joe Collins and Jake Merrill, in addition to fire chaplain Jim Davis.

Mello noted that some firefighters that started as volunteers or reserves have eventually been hired on fulltime and are currently with the local department. Those include Ryan Burr, who started as a volunteer and Gerardo Preciado, who began his career in Escalon as a reserve firefighter.