Regional Fire Academy graduation

AWC celebrates inaugural graduation ceremony for regional Fire Academy

December 15, 2023

Yuma, AZ (December 15, 2023) – Arizona Western College held an inaugural graduation ceremony in November for the first class of the regional Fire Academy. The program is offered in partnership with the City of Yuma Fire Department, Somerton Cocopah Fire Department, City of San Luis Fire Department, and ARIZONA@WORK.

A group of 18 students were trained and certified as Basic EMTs and Firefighters by taking accelerated courses at minimal cost thanks to over $200,000 in funding contributed by the Arizona QUEST grant program, which went toward covering training costs, PPE, course materials, uniforms, exams, and other fees.

“The inaugural graduation ceremony of the first regional Fire Academy marked a significant milestone in the collaborative efforts between Arizona Western College, local fire departments, and ARIZONA@WORK. This groundbreaking initiative, made possible through the utilization of QUEST funding, showcased a remarkable endeavor to reskill and upskill individuals, enabling them to access higher-paid employment opportunities within the fire services sector,” said Reetika Dhawan, AWC Entrepreneurial College Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Workforce & Healthcare Programs.

One of the graduates, Robert Rillamas, was honored as the Student of the Month in August during the AWC District Governing Board meeting. He shared how grateful he is for the program as a second-generation firefighter recently hired by the City of Yuma Fire Department. He also appreciates how the program supports collaboration between cadets from local agencies to build comradery, skills, connection, and support as emerging professionals in this field.

During the meeting, EMS instructor William Kereluk recognized Rillamas as being a student who embodies the qualities that instructors want to see in first responders. Rillamas was described as being one of the first to show up and the last to leave, supporting instructors and students by setting up labs and classes, and asking questions that open up learning opportunities for the rest of the class. 

“The goal of the Arizona QUEST grant is to train and employ these individuals who have been impacted as a result of the pandemic by offering equitable access to education, training, employment and the opportunity to well-paying jobs that provide suitable wages and benefits. The Arizona QUEST grant is funded by the Department of Labor to cover costs such as tuition, uniforms, equipment and much more,” said Nidia Herrera, ARIZONA@WORK-Yuma County Executive Director.

Arizona QUEST grant funding can be used for individuals whose employment has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, allowing them to have access to skills training, career pathways, and job opportunities. The program serves individuals who are 18 and older, who were employed prior to COVID but became unemployed, underemployed, or lost employment for failing to report to work due to caring for oneself or a family member as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional services supported by this initiative include job search and placement assistance; apprenticeships; support services and referrals; and job fairs and recruitment events.

Reetika Dhawan
Chief Executive Officer, Entrepreneurial College 
Vice President of Workforce & Healthcare Programs
Arizona Western College