AVC firefighter grad saves a life

Quick action by a graduate of Antelope Valley College’s municipal Firefighter 1 Academy is credited with saving the life of a woman during a house fire.

A photo of AVC firefighter graduate Paul Abarquez during his 2011 graduation from the AVC Firefighter 1 Academy. Then-President Dr. Jackie L. Fisher Sr. at left.
A photo of AVC firefighter graduate Paul Abarquez during his 2011 graduation from the AVC Firefighter 1 Academy. Then-President Dr. Jackie L. Fisher Sr. at left.

Paul Abarquez, who completed AVC’s academy in 2011 and was hired by the Kern County Fire Department last year, was working an overtime shift in Tehachapi when, at 6:30 a.m. June 30, a call came in of an explosion and fire at a home.

As Abarquez and fellow firefighters from Station 12 responded, “we saw smoke showing from maybe a mile or two away.”

On arrival at the scene, “I pulled a hose line to the front door and the captain and I were getting ready to make entry.” However, as the captain entered the front door, he was met with extensive heat and smoke was already down to the floor – indications of an intensive fire.

The captain made the decision to shift the attack on the fire to open flames on the side of the house.

“It was at that time I heard 2 knocks and a scream” coming from inside the house, Abarquez said.

“This room was so heavily involved in fire, I was thinking nobody could be alive in that room,” he said.

With his adrenaline flowing, the young firefighter quickly moved forward and ran his hands along the bottom on the paneled exterior wall. Using just his hands, he ripped off a piece of the siding and wall insulation.

Before his eyes, through the wood framing, Abarquez could see feet just on the other side of the newly created hole in the wall.

“It was crazy when I looked in and saw her feet,” he said of the victim before him. “Her feet were right there!”

Abarquez grabbed the woman by her feet and pulled the woman – whose clothing was on fire -- through the opening. He reached for his hose line and opened the nozzle to create a “fog pattern” to douse the woman and cool her extensive burns.

At that point, the engineer, a paramedic, took over treatment of the victim while Abarquez went back to knocking down the fire as other engine companies arrived at the scene.

It was a remarkable series of events that led to the woman’s rescue.

Had the firefighters entered from the front of the house – as originally intended – the victim may not have survived. Or, had the firefighters started dousing the flames in the room first, the intense heat from the resulting steam could have led to the victim’s demise.

“…Right after, it was kind of surreal that the lady came out of that room alive,” said Abarquez.

The victim was evacuated by air ambulance to a hospital. More than two weeks after the incident, the woman was reported to be hospitalized at a burn center with extensive third degree burns.

Joining the fire service is the fulfillment of a dream for Abarquez. Abarquez’s father-in-law is a firefighter, too.

“He’s the guy who sparked it in my mind to get started,” he said.

Abarquez is grateful for the training he received at Antelope Valley College. The yearlong training program combines classroom instruction with hands-on training utilizing the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s North County Training Center.

“I wanted to do the Firefighter 1 Academy just to get hands-on training with a lot of the equipment,” Abarquez said.

The AVC academy allowed him to keep his two jobs while attending the academy part-time. Abarquez, his wife and two sons live in Tehachapi.

When he was eventually hired by Kern County Fire Department in September 2012, Abarquez still had to go through Kern’s academy, which provided him additional hands-on training.

“I love it,” Abarquez said of his new career. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”