Anaheim student knows he wants to be a firefighter, thanks to Public Safety Academy


It was when 13-year-old Fernando Diaz visited an Anaheim Fire & Rescue station and saw how real firefighters do their job that he knew what he wanted to be.

A firefighter.

“We got to see how they lived, how they worked, how they answered calls,” said the Sycamore Junior High School student. “I would like to help … do good for my community.”

Fernando Diaz, 13, in front of a cereal box he created in Photoshop when his class was asked to come up with a design representing what their goals were for the future. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Diaz’s insight into the world of Anaheim Fire & Rescue comes as part of an educational partnership between police and fire agencies, and Sycamore Junior High in Anaheim. In its third year, the Public Safety Academy is a year-long elective course open to eighth-graders at the school. Half the semester is spent on classroom topics that explore careers in public safety and the other half involves guest speakers from law enforcement and fire services.

“It has to be students that exemplify the Six Pillars,” said Public Safety Academy teacher Dayna Whitman.

The program’s Six Pillars of Character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship) are the basis of the curriculum for the students in the class. The current class size is 29 students, including five girls, but signups for next year’s class is already at 78.

Public Safety students receive a T-shirt they get to wear on Fridays, further helping to raise awareness of the new class.

Fernando Diaz, 13, talks to his friends at Sycamore Junior High. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Some of Diaz’s friends already have expressed interest themselves in joining the class. He said it’s a very informational class and he’s learned a lot about being a firefighter.

“You have to be athletic,” he said. “You have to be good with people. And be patient.”

Diaz certainly has the athletic side down, considering he plays basketball, football, runs in track and cross-country. And he has a consistent fitness routine at home.

“I have dumbbells,” he said. “I do pushups, situps… Sometimes I go run a mile. I go play basketball every other day.”

One thing he was surprised to learn about being a firefighter is the sleeping arrangement – the firefighters at the station he visited slept in adjacent stalls.

“I thought it’d be like little rooms,” he said.

Regardless of the sleeping situation, he has his goal now and he will work toward it.

Dayna Whitman, left, an instructor for the Public Safety Academy with Fernando Diaz, an eighth-grade student at Sycamore Junior High, with the cereal box he created in Photoshop depicting himself as a firefighter. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

AFR Community Engagement Manager Elsa Covarrubias said students in the class receive a deep exposure to public safety life that most other students at that age don’t receive.

“They’re like four years ahead of the average person in terms of understanding the [public safety]path,” she said.

Diaz said he recently informed his parents of his future career path.

“They thought it would be something good,” he said.