Today was the first full day of the Los Medanos Fire Academy for my class of cadets.  I say full day, because we did have a 3-hour orientation two weeks ago, but that was more of a “welcome to the academy” day than today was.   With all of us in our brand new, crisply pressed uniforms, Academy Coordinator Mike Grillo went into depth regarding the various rules, regulations and expectations we’ll be expected to meet over the course of the next 5 months.  And near the end of the day, my big blunder would become apparent.

To begin the orientation, Captain Grillo gave us a brief intro to the names, departments and specialties of the many firefighters (with a wide variety of titles and roles) who will be instructing us over the course of the semester.  He also introduced us to Brittany Sylvia who is a previous LMC Fire Academy graduate, and now helps run the physical training aspect of the academy.  She claims anything she’ll be having us do, she’ll be doing right along side us.  I believe her.

Aside from getting the obvious certificate of achievement for completing the fire academy, and the likely achievement of earning our Firefighter 1 cert. (3 fire courses and the academy), we’ll also be getting two other significant certifications.  The first is a State Fire Marshal certification in Wildland Interface, which is highly valuable in California.  Second Captain Ed Macumber will be certifying us as HazMat FRO (Hazardous Materials – First Responder Operations), which is also huge!

We reviewed our textbook (BIG, Expensive, and the origin of my blunder) and it was explained that anything less than a minimum of 70% fails the academy.  That’s referring to the 10 quizzes we’ll be taking plus the midterm and final.  Also, there about 400 hours of class time of which we may miss a maximum of 18.  More than that and we’re out.

We reviewed a lot more “little details” and then headed outside to learn how to march.  Only 2 or 3 people in this academy have prior military experience which is surpising, and it made learning how to march all the more exciting and new.  I have to say, aside from the 90° sun beating on my bald head, it was actually a lot of fun.  Also, I now know where my boots are going to be giving me blisters.

Before the marching actually began we learned about grouping our battalion into formations and different stances.  At one point during Capt. Grillo’s explanation of standing “At Ease”, he called me a “short-cutter”.  I was completely bewildered at why he would call me this, except that at times he picks on random people to tease them.  Still, this seemed a little harsh for teasing.  I decided I would ask him at the end of the day.

The marching can be tricky at times.  If for a moment you lose your cadence with the other cadets, it can be very hard to get back into it without being spotted.  The key as I see it, is to keep a strong focus on the beat of the feet, while maintaining a comfortable awareness of where your surrounding cadets are.  Once that’s in place you’re better off if you just fall into the zone and rhythm of the march.  That’s when it becomes fun.

Fortunately, we were a worthwhile troop and without too much trouble, our marching convinced Captain Grillo to let us conclude before the heat caused us to completely sweat stain our brand new uniforms.  Back in the sweetness of air conditioning, we got a quick lesson on how to shine our boots, which it sounds like we’ll want to do before every day of the academy.  Finally, Brittany concluded class with some candid Q&A and were excused.

Once we were excused, I approached Capt. Grillo and asked him “Sir, do you really think of me as a ‘short-cutter’ or was that just a joke?”  His lack of immediate response was telling and crushing, and finally he replied.  He told me he got a call from “a bookstore” telling him that “one of his students was trying to take a shortcut”.  Again, I was baffled, but quickly realized what he must be referring to.

A week prior to this, I had gotten on our textbook publishers website and filled out a form for a “review copy”.  Doing this same thing for my EMT class, I connected with that publishing companies sales people who told me about a student price I was able to get through them.  This saved me a lot of money, and I was hoping to repeat the experience.  As it is, I am currently dirt poor.

Unfortunately what happened, was rather than informing me about money-saving options for purchasing their textbook, the salesgirl called Capt. Grillo and told him that one of his students was trying to take shortcuts.  The salesgirl did email me asking if I was employed by the school.   I responded telling her that I wasn’t an employee.  I told her I was a student, and a very poor one at that.   Lastly, I explained that I was simply hoping she may be able to help me out with the cost of the book.

I don’t think this is the message she delivered to Capt. Grillo.  I told the Captain that I was looking for a student discount and that the last thing I’d want him to think of me as was a “short-cutter”.  He told me “OK, prove me wrong” and walked away.  I hate this.  I hate that a misunderstanding or a lack of knowing the whole story has now reduced my reputation to that of a short-cutter, and on the very first day!!  I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

I ordered my text book on Amazon and am worried it won’t be here soon enough.  We have our first quiz in less than a week and I need to study!