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New Haven 8th grader learns more about her heroes
Essay winner Diana Urena, front left, and friend Susan Munoz pose with Manteca firefighters ,from left, Bernard Mississippi, Derek Leong, Derek George, and Captain Dave Marques. - photo by HIME ROMERO

All that Diana Urena knew about firefighters was that they occasionally saved lives.

When she was much younger she had her first brush with Manteca’s Bravest when she accidentally started a fire in her grandmother’s kitchen by turning the gas burner up instead of down when they ran out to deliver a plate of food to a relative.

They returned home to a bank of emergency vehicles just in time to see a firefighter carrying their dog through the front door.

Recently, however, her entire outlook about the profession and those in the fire service changed.

It was then that the New Haven 8th grader got the opportunity to cash in the prize she won in the “My Hero” essay contest held by The Bulletin in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks  She spent a day on the job with Manteca firefighters and getting a glimpse behind the curtain.

With a friend in tow, Urena got the chance to do everything from responding to Code 3 medical calls to seeing how crews perform business inspections. It opened her eyes, she said, into the world that exists behind the shiny red engines.

“They’re away from their families a lot, and they’re always ready to jump in and go help somebody that they don’t know,” she said. “Even if they’re in the shower or the bathroom. And they’re all really friendly and nice.”

 After showing up at the fire house at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday, Urena and friend Sarah Munoz got the full tour of Station 34 on S. Union Road and got a full accounting of everything on the engine that crews bring out to structure fires, vehicle accidents and medical calls.

Then they got the chance to see what it was like to actually roll down the road with the lights and sirens blaring.

Because medical privacy laws prevented them from finding out the exact nature of the calls they were on, the true thrill had to rest in actually seeing firefighters respond.

But for Urena and Munoz, that was plenty.

“That was my favorite part today – getting to respond to those calls,” Urena said – noting that they got to wear the headsets that allow firefighters to communicate while speeding in the noisy, siren-laced diesel. “It’s been a lot of fun seeing them do what they do.”

Of course there’s that whole running into burning buildings to save people’s lives thing.

While it’s not a major part of the day-to-day, Urena says she respects their readiness to lay their own lives on the line to save somebody else’s.

“It’s something that they’re willing to do and I really respect and appreciate that,” she said. “They’re always there waiting for that call.”

According to Manteca Fire Captain David Marques, allowing young people like Urena to learn more about what the fire service is all about actually helps shed some of the preconceived notions about what a standard workday is like for a firefighter.

There’s always the chance, he said, that they see something during their visit that prompts them to want to pursue it as a career as well.

“It mostly exposes them to what we’re all about and what a day is like for us. Today they went with us on calls, to give a presentation and even to do a business inspection. A little bit later we’ll do some training – that’s an average day,” Marques said. “It’s been a lot of fun having them here today. They were really excited getting to respond to those calls. It’s good to see smiles like that.”