©American Canyon Eagle

Code 3: California Cadets respond to the call for emergency workers

By Michael Waterson News Editor
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When my wife crashed the car on a back road in Angwin she was drunk. I was just an innocent passenger.

That’s what I’m going to tell the paramedics, anyway, if they ever arrive.

I’m standing outside the car, unhurt, waiting for help to arrive and planning my story.

A couple of farmworkers in a runabout found us five minutes ago. One of them went back to farmhouse to call in the accident. I couldn’t call for help since I was out of cell phone range. In the meantime Autumn, my wife, is slumped over the wheel, injured and moaning in pain.

When the ambulance finally does come, Autumn tells them that I caused the crash by jerking the wheel and punching her during an argument while she drove. I deny her accusations and tell the cops she is drunk and lying. They don’t buy it and put me in the back of the patrol car as the paramedics lift Autumn into the back of the ambulance.

That sounds like a pretty good news story. I can see the headline in The Eagle: “Editor detained in car crash, wife hospitalized.”

The thing is, none of it is true. Well, except for the location and being out of cell phone range. Before sending flowers to the hospital or raising bail for this journalist, you should know that the above events were just a training scenario played out Thursday by the California Cadet Academy.

Autumn is not my wife, but Autumn Cofer, a board member of the academy. There to cover the story of the cadets’ training, I became part of that training. Autumn and I had been given our respective roles and stories while different cadets were assigned to play farmworkers, police and paramedics. It was all a simulation of the type of event that emergency personnel face time and again.

Founded by American Canyon police officer, Tony Heuschel, and his wife Nicole, the academy is designed to give teens interested in public service a chance for a “day-in-the-life” experience of a firefighter, police officer and paramedic. Interested kid ages 13 to 18 get preparatory training for the Police Cadets and Fire Explorer programs. The school’s motto is “Experience today the careers of tomorrow.”

In its second year, the school is a nonprofit, all-volunteer effort. For a $400 fee, the youngsters spend a week in the training on the Pacific Union College campus, the four-year liberal arts college in Angwin. The fee includes room and board.

This year the kids got a chance to experience the real thing.

“They helped out with the search for the missing St. Helena autistic boy Tuesday night,” searching creek beds,” said Heuschel. The boy was known to be attracted to water. “We try to simulate real life (in the training); this time they were part of a real search.”

A passerby spotted the 17-year old runaway early Wednesday morning. For their efforts, the cadets received a thank-you visit from Patrol Lt. Erik Erickson of the Napa Sheriff’s Department.

Teens are drawn to the program for different reasons.

“I wanted a taste of military training,” said Matthew Young. The cadets follow paramilitary protocol with a high level of discipline including learning to march, military courtesy and even right down to tight corners on their blankets and bed sheets. Each dorm room undergoes a military style inspection. Young, an AmCan resident and senior at Vintage High, said he plans to join the Army after graduation.

“Being a cop,” said Michael Nalevanko when asked what his reason was for enrolling. Nalevanko, 16 and also from American Canyon, is a junior at Vintage.

In addition to field exercises like the car crash, the kids get some physical training and classroom lectures. They also get some input from those working in the respective fields.

Immediately before the crash exercise the dozen or so young men in the session were out on the tarmac at Virgil O. Parrett Field, the Angwin airport, for the landing of a CHP helicopter.

Once the blades stopped turning, Pilot Lannis Pope and Flight Officer Scott Nunes, emerged and spent more than an hour explaining the parts of the whirlybird, their duties and challenges, and how they got their current positions. They answered questions about their jobs, flying and the CHP in general.

Not only do the cadets get the benefit of professionals in fire, law enforcement and EMT, they also get instruction from the director of the Graduate Program of Criminal Justice of Villanova University. But it’s not exactly the kind of instruction you might expect.

“I teach them bed-making, how to spit shine their shoes and professional courtesy,” said Stanley Jacobs. Those are not the kind of lessons you expect from a professor of criminal justice, but Jacobs, who happens to be Tony Heuschel’s stepfather, was also a Marine for six years. “I also try to get them thinking about the future and the need for goals,” said Jacobs, who has a doctorate in psychology.

The debriefing after the crash exercise lasted until after 9:00 p.m. but darkness wasn’t going to stop the training.

“I’m going to keep them going until about midnight,” said Heuschel. He noted that at that point in the week the kids were pretty tired. Heuschel is nearing the end of his second week of instruction; the academy offered two sessions this year.

No doubt Saturday’s graduation ceremony gave everyone a lift.