Seventeen-year-old Jorge Soto wants to become a firefighter--a goal he set during an intense seven-week training program that introduces high school students to real-life careers.
For the last two months, Soto was among 100 aspiring firefighters from five San Fernando Valley high schools who learned how to climb ladders, tie knots and use heavy fire hoses.
On Saturday, they graduated from the Fire Instruction Recruitment and Education Academy Program at Valley College in Valley Glen.
"It was an adventure," said Soto, a Grant High School student, after he and classmate Mariana Cruz, 17, demonstrated one of their new skills.
In about a minute, they removed their shoes, put on bulky 70-pound fire-resistant jumpsuits, fastening every button and buckle, and secured their helmets.
The demonstration was part of a graduation ceremony that drew nearly 300 family members, teachers and friends.
"They've learned it's hard work out there," said Cathy Carr, whose two sons, Josh, 13, and Brandon, 17, graduated. "I'm very proud."
The Fire Academy, which began in 1999 with 37 cadets, is sponsored by Valley College, Los Angeles Fire Department and Los Angeles Unified School District. Its goal is to prepare high school students for public service careers, director John Burke said.
"If you give young people the desire, they will achieve," he said. "They will have the motivation to do their English, math and science homework because they are motivated by an exciting career."
At the academy, volunteers from the Los Angeles Fire Department train the students in safety procedures, classroom instruction and firefighting exercises.
Adriana Ruiz, 18, of Monroe High graduated from the Fire Academy last year. She returned this year for advanced training and plans to join the Explorers, a Fire Department program in which boys and girls, ages 14 to 21, work as volunteers to learn how to become firefighters.
"I've been interested in this job since I was a kid," she said. "I'm sure I want to do this. I love it."
The students now come from Grant, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt and Van Nuys high schools. But other high schools may be added within the next year as other fire academies are expected to open at Harbor College and West Los Angeles College, Burke said.
Plans also are being made for emergency medical service, automotive design and biotechnical sciences academies.