Woodcrest Christian alumni serve in a wide variety of professions. However, we noticed one vocation that has lured quite a number of former WCS students: firefighting. While probably not a complete list, we learned that Riverside City Fire Department was home to Chris Boykin (1998-a firefighter paramedic & engineer), Erik Collins (1998-a firefighter who had previously been a captain for Cal Fire), Giovanni Contreras (2001-a firefighter), Brian Fuentes (1995-an engineer), and David Waltemeyer (2006-a firefighter paramedic), Brad Aarts (2006), Kevin Carpenter (2001), Kelwyn Wild (1997), and Ted Schaffer (1981-a “legend” at Cal Fire).
Occasionally, one of our very own responds to medical emergencies that occur on campus. It has been a real joy to watch our WCS alumni do their job competently and confidently. But we wanted to find out more, so we contacted a few of them to get a picture of what their life as firefighters is like and how their experience at Woodcrest Christian prepared them for this calling.
After completing four years of college-prep classes, many of our grads move towards professional fields of science, nursing, or business. What would lead some of them into serving on local fire departments? Firefighters seem to have become almost mythical heroes after their valiant efforts on 9/11. So, it was both the respect and admiration the job engendered as well as the variety and excitement of the task that appealed to Dan Lamy. Others had more personal influences. David Waltemeyer spoke of how firefighting was “in his blood”. He recalls his father’s face as he returned each day from his job with the Corona Fire Department. After visiting the fire station and researching the potential career, David chose to keep the family tradition alive. Chris Boykin came from another angle. While he was attending RCC, an introductory EMT course looked appealing and he took it. That led to a job with American Medical Response where he was promoted to paramedic two years later. Finally, five years after that, Chris decided to attend the fire academy.
The Rush on the Job
TV shows like Chicago Fire and Third Watch offer weekly doses of excitement facing their fictional firemen. What are the exciting parts for our alumni? Firemen are called when a crisis arises and facing that crisis usually gets the adrenaline flowing. Maybe it’s just a generic sort of rush that happens when a column of smoke is seen rising in the air. Brian Fuentes mentioned one fire where he had to search a fully involved apartment for a paraplegic victim caught inside. The low-lying smoke layer initially hid the man, but Brian and his partner eventually found him and dragged him to the front door. Though they had to battle the heat, the smoke, the poor light, and the weight of the victim and were exhausted, they were gratified that he ultimately recovered from the burns due to inhaling heated smoke. Dan referred to one call where they responded to a school bus fire. Getting 26 junior high students off the bus while quelling the flames really got his heart rate going. It seems today, however, that most of the firemen’s efforts don’t have much to do with fires: traffic rescues were mentioned repeatedly. David works a rescue truck and operates the “jaws of life” to perform an auto extraction after a traffic collision or use his paramedic skills on a medical call.
Relying on Faith
These alumni are firefighters, but they are also followers of Christ on the job, and it was interesting to hear how they “put their firemen’s boots to their faith” as it were. Both Chris and David pointed to the way firemen living at the station together 24/7 really become like a family.
As Christians live their lives in that context, their commitment to Christ becomes obvious to all, and allowing their coworkers to see a living faith first-hand is a powerful witness to them. But Dan joined Chris in also pointing out that dealing with people in crisis is much easier when coming from a position of strong faith. Chris pointed out how he has had to be the one to notify a family when a family member has died; the compassion and kindness of Christ allow him to be a real comfort to those who feel engulfed by loss.
But where does WCS fit into all of this? How does their past experience on our campus affect the job they do now? Key qualities that these men drew from their time include hard work and perseverance. Brian even tied it down more specifically. As he ran cross country and track for Coach Billy York (for twelve years at Harvest and WCS!), he came to identify Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” as his life verse. He recalls reciting this verse to himself both in the past as he ran the switchbacks at Mt. Sac races and in the present when pulling limp, lifeless victims from burning buildings. He also mentioned that this tenacity wasn’t just expressed in the physical challenges of firefighting. Though academics didn’t necessarily come easy to him, patient teachers working with him in after-school study sessions proved extremely helpful, not only during high school but also later when he had to deal with entrance exams and promotional exams with the fire department. He went on to point out that those study habits and character traits were also “pivotal in achieving my goal of owning a business, Children’s Lighthouse Learning Center, a place that cares for and teaches children the same values that were taught to me.”
Dan similarly indicated that WCS was an environment that encouraged academics and spiritual growth: “With the daily tragedy that firefighters experience, using rational thought balanced wth a Christ-centered worldview helps me to deal with those event that cause me to shake my head and ask the inevitable questions of how and why did this occur.” Finally, Chris added that the strong moral foundation at WCS put him in the best position to deal with the sensitive aspects of his job.
Woodcrest Christian appreciates all that these public servants do for us and is proud of the part our firefighting alumni play both locally and beyond. We have been the beneficiaries of their efforts and pray for God’s protection of them as they serve in this way.