As a water maintenance worker for the city of El Segundo, Javier Olmedo’s work sometimes involves repairing fire hydrants and responding to emergency calls of water-main ruptures.
Olmedo, a 2001 Santa Monica High School graduate, wants fire hydrants to play a different role in his work.
“When I was little I used to get really excited about putting on a little firefighter helmet,” Olmedo said. “The dream grew stronger as I got older. I idolized [firefighters] every time I would see them.”
Though the dream has so far eluded him, with some help from the Santa Monica community, it now appears within in his reach.
Olmedo, a resident of Inglewood, was accepted at El Camino College Fire Academy in Torrance, where he took the prerequisite basic fire-science courses and emergency medical tech program. Before he could enroll, the part-time program was discontinued due to budget cuts.
As the father of three children—Lorena, 13; Salina, 11; and Javier Jr., 8—Olmedo said he could not afford to give up his job to enroll in the academy full time. Olmedo’s fiancée and his children’s mother, Carolina Buendia, also a 2001 SMHS graduate, is an instructional assistant at McKinley Elementary.
Olmedo said he was placed on El Camino’s waitlist and invited to attend a subsequent term. Since his circumstances had not changed, Olmedo declined a second time.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Olmedo said. “I was a little frustrated, but it just motivated me to go out and look elsewhere.”
Olmedo discovered the Verdugo Fire Academy at Glendale Community College, which offers a one-year, part-time program on Thursday evenings and weekends. By the end of the program, which is certified by the California State Board of Fire Services and California State Fire Marshal, graduates complete 900 hours of academic and hands-on training.
Two communities have stepped forward to support Olmedo’s goal of starting the program in January. The El Segundo Fire Department has agreed to sponsor Olmedo’s equipment needs. Last Thursday, Pico Youth & Family Center founder and director Oscar de la Torre sent out an e-mail seeking donations to help cover Olmedo’s tuition and related expenses totaling over $4,500.
“Javier grew up in the Pico neighborhood, he’s a graduate of our public school system and he’s a dedicated father, all good reasons for us to support him in reaching his dreams,” de la Torre told Patch. “It’s difficult being a father and a provider; it’s hard to stretch those dollars to include education.”
Although de la Torre sent out the e-mail to youth center supporters, he said donations would not go through the nonprofit; they would go directly to Olmedo and therefore would not be tax deductible. De la Torre said the youth center plans to make its own donation.
“We want to make sure that the funding goes directly to him and that donors have an opportunity to make sure that none of the donations will be used for any other programs or administration,” de la Torre said.
De la Torre, who was outreach specialist at Santa Monica High when Olmedo was a student, said he sees Olmedo’s goal of becoming a firefighter as an extension of Olmedo’s commitment to his children, who currently attend Santa Monica-Malibu Unified schools.
“[De la Torre] was a helping hand while I was at Santa Monica High,” said Olmedo, who also spent time volunteering in PYFC’s music program. "Because of people like Oscar and organizations like PYFC, people like myself are still able to have hope and hold on to their dreams. It means a
Olmedo said the opportunity to help others was part of what attracted him to firefighting.
“It would definitely be a dream to come back and work for Santa Monica [Fire Department].”