Class 96 Rio Hondo College Fire Academy 2021 Graduates


Aaron Martinez

Cadets from the Rio Hondo Fire Academy graduated at the Santa Fe Springs facilities on Thursday May 27.

On May 27, 2021, Rio Hondo’s College Regional Fire Academy held a ceremony for the graduating Class 96. Starting with 60 Cadets, 48 of them, two being women will move on as firefighters in the field as graduates. The Dean of Public Safety Division Mark Yokoyama congratulates Class 96 Fire Academy, along with many others. President of Rio Hondo College Teresa Dreyfuss, President of the College Board of Trustee (Area 3) Rosaelva Lomeli, Member Trustee (Area 5) Oscar Valladares, and other experienced staff join the ceremony to witness the graduating class.

The End for New Beginnings

After affirming the Fire Service Code of Ethics, Class 96 President Eli Mestas gave a few words to his colleagues. From starting at the academy and through each exam preparation, he recalls the trials they endured as a unit. “The PT got tougher; the training more intense…One thing that happened during all this is we bonded as a group. We pushed ourselves to our personal limits, and then we pushed one another just one step further.” He continues, “No matter what happens next, do not forget what we went through to get to this point. This Firefighter Certification is just the beginning…nothing changes 96.”

Continuing his speech, he acknowledges two cadets who assisted organizing their class merchandise, lunches, and gifts at the Academy. Recognizing Cadets Ryan Carrillo and Devin Serrano, they join class Battalion Chief Patrick Wells, presenting a plaque for their graduating class. Cadet Serrano introduces the “Best of the Best Award”, also known as LA/Orange County Fire Chief Physical Ability Test. This exam challenges all cadets in their agility and ability throughout their firefighting training. Throughout passing 11 events under 9 minutes and 34 seconds, Class 96 is the first to showcase this new plaque. Honoring the first cadet recipient, Chief Wells completes and sets the class standard for future firefighters of 5 minutes, 2 seconds. He dedicates this Class 96 plaque to the cadres, instructors, and Drill Master Felix Valle of Rio Hondo College.

The Prestigious Awards

Moving forward in the ceremony, Rio Hondo College Fire Academy Director Chief Andrew Gryzwa certify all graduates of Class 96. As cadets complete 742 hours of training, Rio Hondo is the most comprehensive Fire Academy in California. Chief Gryzwa also announces five additional awards.

In the Academy, each cadet assembles an individual notebook from evaluating and collecting vital information from training. With recognition, Cadet John Talley receives the Most Outstanding Notebook Award.

Another prestigious award presented called the Brent Lovrien Memorial Award. Brent Lovrien was part of Class 37 of Rio Hondo College in 1993. Serving as an auxiliary firefighter, Lovrien passed away in March 2008 from a fire explosion near LAX. In memory of his duties, class 96 selected the recipient of this award to Cadet Jaime Llamas.

Throughout many fitness exams, Class 96 surmount the success rate of <60% with 82% percent, passing the Pre-Academy Biddle Test. In addition, 15 cadets completed this exam in under six minutes. As one of these cadets, Cadet Jason Coy earns the Top Physical Condition Award. Cadet Coy is the first candidate to complete the Biddle Test three times under six minutes.

Next, Engineer Patrick Carrillo announces another exemplary award. 75-100+ staff votes Cadet Jalynne Li for the Dedication and Motivation Award. Cadet Li shows exemplary performance in all subject matters such as written test score, physical fitness, skill performance, attention to detail and a “can do” attitude. Being one of the two women graduating, Engineer Carrillo says, “Big things do come in small packages.”

Finally, this award is also in memory of another former Rio Hondo Cadet Class 35, Stephen Masto. Firefighter Masto was top of his class at the Academy and later worked for Santa Barbara City Fire Department. In August 1999, he passed away from heat exhaustion volunteering as an EMT during a Los Padres National Forest fire.

In honor of Stephen Masto, Cadet Andrew Barrera was given Outstanding Cadet Overall Performance Award. Stephen’s mother, Fidel Masto passes her son’s badge number 151 pin to Cadet Barrera, in memory of his duties and top performance.

Future Plans

As the ceremony closes, Firefighter Jalynne Li and Andrew Barrera express their reflections, emotions, and plans in their interviews.

Earning the Dedication and Motivation Award Firefighter Li says, “I can’t really describe how I’m feeling exactly. Both me and [Mackenzie] Taylor were actually in class 95, so coming back here and graduating, we both feel ecstatic.” She adds, “It’s great because we can be those future role models for other female cadets…that was one of my biggest things going into this career. I wanted to be someone that other girls can be like, ‘I can do this as my career too’  because I didn’t think about it growing up.” Firefighter Li plans to work as an EMT to gain hours to attend paramedic school. She soon intends to apply to 911 companies and fire departments around SoCal.

Being a Pico Rivera local, Firefighter Barrera give his thoughts after being awarded Outstanding Cadet Overall Performance, after Stephen Masto. “I feel super relieved, stress has been taken off. I need to adjust getting back to normal and not waking up at 3-3:30am every day. [This award] caught me by surprise… [being] neck and neck with other people and I’m honestly happy I’m done already and move onto the next step.” Cadet Barrera already had a couple interviews and plans to apply to ambulance companies in the future.

Wishing nothing but safety and success, congratulations Rio Hondo Fire Academy, Class 96!