Who were those masked men, anyway?
OK, they weren’t wearing masks — but safety goggles.
But they sure were sharpshooters.
“You’re perfect,” Garden Grove Police Sgt. Rich Burillo told one of the shooters after he fired off three rounds from an AR-15 patrol rifle at a target some 25 yards away.
“That’s a great grouping there,” Burillo said of the bullet holes around the chest area — the “center mass” of the target.
The object of Burillo’s praise wasn’t a cop, but Capt. Bill Strohm of the Garden Grove Fire Department.
Strohm was sprawled on the floor of an indoor shooting range at Field Time Target and Training in Stanton, still in shooting position, next to his firefighting colleague, Mike Jacobs, a firefighter/engineer, when Burillo assessed how he did.
Jacobs was no slacker in the shooting department, either.
“For the most part,” Burillo proclaimed, “you guys are right on target.”
Wait, two firefighters firing police rifles? What’s going on here?
Strohm and Jacobs recently underwent firearms training, along with two brand-new hires by the Garden Grove PD, because of a special title they hold at the GGFD:
Arson Fire Investigator II.
Because that line of work takes them to scenes of possible criminal activity, they have to be armed to protect themselves in case a bad guy still is in the area intent on doing more harm.
And because they arm themselves when sent to such scenes, they must undergo regular firearms training — just like cops, who are required to do so every quarter.
Unlike cops, however, these Garden Grove arson investigators don’t routinely walk around the fire station with their PD-issued weapons.
Instead, they keep their Glock .45 pistols (they train with the rifles but are not issued them) in a safe inside a fire investigation van that is on call 24/7 and is sent to suspicious fires in seven cities as part of a multi-agency task force.
“Most people don’t shoot at us, but these guys (police officers) face the risk of being shot at all the time,” said Jacobs, 43, an arson investigator with Garden Grove Fire for seven years and a 14-year veteran of the agency.
Said Strohm, a 13-year Garden Grove firefighter who has been on the arson investigations team for five years: “We don’t always have the luxury of having a cop by our side.”
Four GGPD sergeants in charge of firearms training — Burillo, John Reynolds, Jim Fischer and range master Manny Flores — in late March oversaw the requalifying training of Jacobs and Strohm, along with rookie officers John Yergler and Manny DeAnda.
Firearms training for arson investigators in Garden Grove isn’t new, but it recently was stepped up following an increase in arson incidents in the city, including a fire at Bolsa Grande High School in early December.
The GG Fire Department has six arson investigators in its force of 90 total firefighters — three who are qualified to carry weapons when investigating a suspicious blaze.
“We’re training them for the worst possible scenario,” Burillo said.
Strohm went through firearms training in December and was back at it in late March with Jacobs, who isn’t a stranger when it comes to firearms: Jacobs spent 14 years in the military, four with the Navy and 10 with the Army National Guard, before he became a firefighter in 2001.
Jacobs also grew up hunting in Louisiana, and Strohm, 39, said he, too, is an avid sportsman who competes in trap and skeet competitions as well as hunting and fishing.
But until recently, the two firefighters rarely have had the opportunity to get in some target practice.
“To get back at this is awesome,” Jacobs said. “And to think I’m getting paid to do this!”
In addition to shooting the rifles, Jacobs and Strohm practiced firing .45 pistols — in one test, they fired off three rounds in four seconds — and practiced “speed reloading,” or shooting at a target, replacing an empty magazine with a full one, and then shooting again for accuracy.
“It’s more important to be accurate than quick,” Burillo told the duo during the latter exercise.
Strohm and Jacobs praised the training of the GGPD sergeants.
“These guys are true professionals,” Strohm said. “The experience they have gives us the opportunity to get a lot of valuable information from them.
“This training is all about being safe and better prepared.”