Ryan McDonald

Center will keep public safety closer to home

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Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi gathers with El Camino College officials and cadets from the campus police department last week after being honored for helping secure funds for the South Bay Public Safety Training Center. Photo by Ryan McDonald

by Ryan McDonald

Officials from El Camino College and local public safety agencies gathered last week at the college’s Torrance campus to thank Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi for his help earlier this year in securing $10 million in funding for the creation of the South Bay Public Safety Training Center.

Like lawyers and doctors, first responders in California are periodically required to undergo training to stay on top of developments in the field. But for years, a training day for South Bay police officers and firefighters has meant traveling far from the area and taking time off from work. This “takes first responders away from their communities,” Muratsuchi said. Once opened, the expanded academy will “bring training home to the South Bay.”

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“This is bringing together two of the things that make the South Bay such a great place to live: great schools and safe neighborhoods. It’s an opportunity not only to support the best community college in California but also our first responders as well,” said Muratsuchi, a Democrat.

Police and fire officials from South Bay cities, as well as cadets from the El Camino Police Department, were on hand for the ceremony, an indication of the relationship that the college already has with local public safety agencies. El Camino currently has programs for paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) training, as well as a fire and emergency technology department. The school also runs a fire academy, based in Inglewood, that provides a certificate for those looking to join municipal departments.

But El Camino President Dena Maloney said that, since joining the school in February 2016, she thought the school “could be doing more” if it had the capacity. The funds secured for the center, she said, created a win-win situation for both the school and regional public safety agencies.

Martin Serna, chief of the Torrance Fire Department, said that over the past few years first responder agencies have been tasked with an increasingly complex set of duties that require new training and education, like how to deal with a hazardous materials release. He said he has sent his officers to Orange County, Long Beach, Pico Rivera and Elysian Park for training.

“That travel time is significant. The L.A. area vision is a training center in every region. The glaring gap, though, is in the South Bay,” Serna said.

In Hermosa, which dissolved its own department last year and now contracts with Los Angeles County Fire, firefighters have substantial training options. Some are close to home. Others, not so much.

“We have both. We have in-station training, but we can also send people out,” said Alexis Miller, a firefighter with the county’s employee services division. Popular training classes include wildfire fighting and hazmat training, she said, both of which often take place at the department’s Del Valle Regional Training Center in Castaic, near the northwest edge of the county.

The department has multiple facilities throughout the county, and often partners with other agencies for training, Miller said. But in the event that a firefighter has to miss a day of work to undergo training, the department may detail a firefighter typically stationed elsewhere to fill in the gap.

Randal Davis, associate dean for the college’s Industry and Technology Division, said the new center will also expand the ability of local police and fire departments to recruit candidates from the area. Interested high school students can join an Explorer program, for ages 14 to 18 years, where they will receive mentorship and guidance on public safety career paths. They will also have opportunities to earn EMT certificates, apprenticeships with local fire departments, and potentially even a scholarship into the fire academy.

Marilyn Valdez, the student representative on El Camino College’s Board of Directors, said the new academy “means the world to our student body.” A Torrance native, Valdez said the program will help students from the region stay thereby linking them with good jobs that serve the community.

“We’re proud of where we came from, and we want to come back. This takes us a step further into the future,” she said.

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