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June 30, 2022

Fire district’s latest batch of interns graduate

San Lorenzo Valley High School junior Gianna Schwarzbach has always been an athlete. From the soccer pitch to the campus pool where she plays varsity water polo, Schwarzbach’s constitution is tough as nails. For those who know her, it is no surprise that this strong, confident and intelligent Ben Lomond native would want to work just as hard as she plays, and for Schwarzbach, that means pursuing a career in the fire service.

Last week, Schwarzbach joined 12 fellow juniors and seniors as they graduated from the Boulder Creek Fire Protection District’s Intern program. The program was born under the guidance of then-Chief Sam Robustelli in 1999 and has since evolved into a feeder program for local fire departments. Interns endure physical conditioning and fire-related instruction, including vehicle extrication, confined space rescue, structural and wildland firefighting and rope rescue. 

Schwarzbach wants to begin her career as a volunteer for one of the San Lorenzo Valley’s fire departments when she’s 18 (Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, Felton, Zayante and Bonny Doon are all volunteer-based departments). Then she hopes to move on to working for CalFire or another fire agency. 

“I love doing this so much; I’d love to join a local department to get some experience,” she said. 

Originally, Schwarzbach was interested in police work but found inspiration during her time in the intern program. 

“Not everyone has a chance to do this, and I thought it would be a cool experience,” she said. “I just wanted to test my skills and strength, and I’ve done more than I ever thought. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve pushed myself physically harder than ever.”

SLV senior Erika Kindred is focused on becoming a PG&E lineman after she graduates. While pulling hoses and learning about different types of fire apparatus may not be par for the course as a lineman, Kindred acknowledged that she learned skills that will serve her well in life. “There were points during the program where I had two choices: I could give up or push through,” Kindred said. “I never gave up, and I learned that when I was at my breaking point, I had another gear. When I got close to faltering, my team knew it, and they would help pick me up and propel me forward. The team camaraderie was awesome, and as a civilian, I developed a deep respect for our firefighters.” 

While spending five months on the ground during the internship, senior Jason Chinello wanted to pursue a career in aviation. He discovered his ability to remain calm in stressful situations. 

“I found that I can retain information far better than before,” Chinello explained. “As far as getting an in-depth overview of the fire service, it made me truly appreciate what everyone in fire departments does for their community.” 

Chinello said dedication and consistency are critical components to overall success; showing up 15 minutes early and being prepared for anything are all skills he believes will translate to his career, primarily if he pursues becoming a pilot. 

Chinello was impacted by a quote from Boulder Creek Fire Chief Mark Bingham: “Never walk away from a problem you can fix.”

“That resonated with me,” Chinello said. “Whether it’s picking up trash or performing CPR on an individual, we all have a responsibility to help others.”

Bingham is proud of the interns and all they’ve learned and accomplished. 

“The program inspires young folks to be more than just a citizen—it inspires them to pursue a path in community service and give back to others,” he said. “Ultimately, they get exposed to all the facets of being a firefighter, and they walk away with first-hand knowledge of what volunteer firefighters do.” 

Bingham said that when a 911 call would come in during instruction, the interns were wide-eyed. The call would come in, and instructors would have to stop teaching and determine who would respond to the emergency. 

“The students would immediately go quiet, and you could see them observing the interactions and respecting the process,” Bingham said. “By being part of the internship, you can see a spark developing within them, and by the end of the program, that spark has become a ripping fire.” 

He also points to the real-world skills that interns gain. During the last month, the students learned how to prepare for job interviews and carry themselves during the interview process.

Bingham notes that the final physical agility test has the same components as the standard for recruits, including raising a 35-foot ladder in 35 seconds, dragging a 180-pound dummy more than 25 feet in less than 23 seconds and swinging a sledgehammer 45 times in less than 60 seconds. 

“These young adults see and experience becoming a firefighter, so by the time they’re ready to join, they understand the expectations and the commitment,” Bingham said. There are 48 members of BCFD, and 42 of them are graduates of the intern program.”

Visit bcfd.com/programs/internship-program for more info.

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