SBCCD Trains Students For One of California’s Most Hazardous Jobs

First college district in SoCal to pilot training program with roots in California’s 2018 wildfires

Jesus Romero, left, and Boaz Van Huekelem graduated from SBCCD’s 200-hour training program to enter one of California’s most hazardous jobs.

ine students graduated at the San Bernardino Community College District after training for a career that few people would even be willing to try.

Basically, it involves handling a chainsaw while maneuvering around fully grown trees near utility lines. No problem, right? Not for San Bernardino resident Jesus Romero, 25, who said he likes the idea of working in a tree because it sets him apart.

“Your office is outside,” he said after the graduation ceremony. “I don’t know how other people see it, but as long as I’m outside, that is enough for me.”

In their 200 hours of training, class instructors set about “getting students comfortable with heights, with firmly attaching themselves, with moving about, and with rescues of other workers,” said William Burley, the lead trainer and an employee of Mowbray’s Tree Service in San Bernardino, one of the employers for the new graduates.

California expects to train 3,000 newly skilled utility/arborists across ten community colleges to help prevent wildfires. Boaz Van Huekelem is among the first trainees from the San Bernardino Community College District.

Safety is paramount, Burley said, since statistics show that this can be one of California’s most hazardous jobs. But someone has to prevent forest fires, right? So high-quality training is the priority.

The San Bernardino Community College District agreed to lead the Southern California portion of the training for utility/arborists. At the same time, Butte-Glenn Community College District teaches Northern California classes.

The collaboration has its roots in the trauma of November 2018, when a fire ripped through the mountain town of Paradise and the neighboring communities of Butte Creek, Magalia, and Concow in Butte County. In just six hours, the blaze burned 95% of the town’s buildings and eventually killed 85 people. Sparking utility equipment started the fire.

California lawmakers voted on a series of laws that will mean stricter standards for utilities and more attention to the way trees and utility lines intersect. Governor Gavin Newsom announced $75 million in state investments to implement new protocols. Pacific Gas & Electric, a major utility company, agreed to pay $6 million to support the training of 3,000 newly skilled utility/arborists across ten community colleges in California.

The trainees graduate as interns with jobs waiting for them to earn their hours and progress through the profession. In the beginning, they will make about $21 per hour. After 18 months, they can be certified as a Utility/Arborist.

The nine students in San Bernardino, decked out in bright orange and yellow vests and COVID-19 masks, received certificates Friday, Feb. 26, with in-person congratulations from their instructors and online kudos from administrators and trustees from the San Bernardino Community College District.

Quoting basketball great Michael Jordan, Assemblymember Eloise Reyes congratulated students for seeking a career that calls for a lot of skill. “You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them,” she said. “Now it is up to you to share your story and how you overcame your obstacles. I will share your story in Sacramento.”

Other partners contributed to the kudos, including the Utility Arborist Association, the Tree Care Industry Association, IBEW Local 47, Mowbray’s Tree Services, North American Training Solutions, California Conservation Corps, and SoCal Edison.

“We admire you for the work you will do,” said Dr. Anne Viricel, chair of the SBCCD Board of Trustees. She said her late husband was a wildland firefighter. “I know how important arborists are to keeping firefighters safe.”

SBCCD Director of Workforce Development Deanna Krehbiel said this is an educational collaboration that will keep communities safer from wildfire. There will be more classes of students coming through the San Bernardino Community College District and going out to work for utility companies and others who try to manage the interface between trees and electrical wires.

“You did it!” she said to the graduates. “This was all you!”

Want to learn more?

Contact SBCCD Director of Workforce Development Deanna Krehbiel at dkrehbiel@sbccd.edu.

About San Bernardino Community College District

San Bernardino Community College District serves 20,000 students through Crafton Hills College and San Bernardino Valley College. For nearly 100 years, our colleges have provided access to affordable higher education and career training for the residents of Big Bear Lake, Bloomington, Calimesa, Colton, Grand Terrace, Highland, Lake Arrowhead, Loma Linda, Redlands, Rialto, San Bernardino and Yucaipa. We educate the health care professionals that serve our medical needs, veterans who have served our country, police and firefighters who keep us safe, and skilled workers who fuel our economy. SBCCD is the broadcast license holder of EMPIRE | KVCR, the PBS and NPR affiliate station for the Inland Empire on TV Channel 24 and 91.9 FM. Learn more at sbccd.edu

Board of Trustees

Dr. Anne L. Viricel, Chair

Dr. Stephanie Houston, Vice Chair

Gloria Macias Harrison, Clerk

John Longville, Member

Frank Reyes, Member

Dr. Donald L. Singer, Member

Joseph Williams, Member

Alex Ramos Huaman, Student Trustee

Adrian Rios, Student Trustee

Interim Chancellor

Jose F. Torres

Presidents

Dr. Kevin Horan, Crafton Hills College

Diana Z. Rodriguez, San Bernardino Valley College

San Bernardino Community College District opens doors of opportunity for 20,000 students at Crafton Hills College & San Bernardino Valley College. www.sbccd.edu