Spanish program being copied
Arizona Republic
August 18, 2006

Author: Mel Melendez, The Arizona Republic
Phoenix Fire Capt. Larry Contreras, 40, has a goal: to help certify half of Phoenix's firefighters in basic Spanish within 10 years.

It's a lofty ambition, but those who know Contreras say he's already set the wheels in motion to help the city reach this milestone.

Contreras helped create Phoenix Fire's Spanish Immersion Program, one of the first in-house foreign-language programs for firefighters nationwide. About 200 of the city's 1,700 firefighters are certified in Spanish, with more than half of them trained on site.

The award-winning program has already sparked a clone in Prince William County, Va., near Washington, D.C.

Republic reporter Mel Melendez recently caught up with Contreras.

Q.Why are Spanish immersion programs like this so important?

Because EMTs must often make split-second, life-saving decisions based on the feedback that they receive at the scene. With Phoenix's Spanish-speaking community growing so swiftly, there's just no way around this.

Q.How have Phoenix firefighters responded to the program?

Just great. They know how much learning Spanish will help them on the job, so they've been very supportive.

Q.How does the immersion program work?

Firefighters and EMTs attend a three-hour class about 10 times per month for about four months

Q.How different is this course to the outside immersion programs often used by other fire and police departments?

Well, the best thing is that they train on the job during their normal shifts. This is part of their work day.

Q.How do they become certified and what are the benefits?

The city offers a Spanish certification test, and if they pass it, then they can earn about $75 more a month, which is a nice incentive.

Q.What happens when they're in Spanish class and have to respond to an emergency call?

That's the beauty of teaching the curriculum on site. We take off and actually continue to practice our Spanish while heading to the accident or fire site. Everything can be incorporated into a lesson, even something as mundane as "Turn right at the next corner."

Details: FIRE.

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