Phoenix teen gets jump on firefighting career in Rocky Point

Job in Rocky Point gives Arizona student unique experience

Betty Reid
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 27, 2008 10:59 PM

The Arizona RepublicJan. 27, 2008 10:59 PMIn Mexico, Leonel Chavez Najera is a bombero, a firefighter.

In America, he is a Carl Hayden High School student who attends Franklin Police and Fire Science High School in the afternoon.

The 18-year-old senior leads two lives in two countries.

At Franklin, the senior learns about teamwork, fire behavior, the types of fires, safety regulations and properly storing 25 pounds of gear. That includes a yellow helmet, a stained jacket, a pair of blue kneepads and a bright-yellow oxygen tank.

But on weekends, he drives to Rocky Point, Mexico, to report for duty with the H. Departmento de Bomberos, where he mops the station floor, washes fire trucks and keeps his ears tuned to a scanner. The Rocky Point Bomberos certified him as one of their own in August and he became Sonora’s youngest firefighter.

Najera, 18, aspires to be a Phoenix firefighter.

Najera, who is an American citizen, spent much of his youth in Rocky Point where his parents now live. He was 10 when he witnessed a house fire. Mexican bomberos rescued a frightened, screaming toddler, and that heroic moment launched his dream.

“A firefighter helps save lives. I want to do that,” Najera said.

Najera joined the bomberos last year as a standby firefighter when its fire chief gave approval. The arrangement allows the high-school student to study in Phoenix and work at the station on weekends.

During one fire, Najera saved a little girl who was burned when a gas stove ignited.

In Phoenix, Najera is learning from Ed Metzger, a Franklin fire-science teacher. Students are learning about wildfires this month and Metzger reminds them that firefighting isn’t always exciting.

Eighty percent of a firefighter’s work is responding to emergency medical calls, and about 20 percent involve fire, he tells his students.

Metzger understands Najera has a head start.

“When a person truly wants to be a firefighter, they will go wherever to do that job,” Metzger said. “What (Najera) did is he went to where he could be a firefighter at the age of 18 and did what he had to. He went to where the work and the demand are at.”

However, he must attend a fire academy before he officially becomes a Phoenix firefighter, Metzger said.

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