Some people dream of sitting high atop a screaming red fire engine, twisting the steering wheel back and forth as the 23-ton truck careens through city streets. Seward Khem gets to do it every day.
Khem is a paramedic in the Long Beach Fire Department. But he’s training to be an engineer. The engineers learn to pilot the enormous engines through tight corridors at high speed, arriving at emergencies in the nick of time, and providing support to firefighters battling blazes.
The new program, in its first year, is called the Provisional Engineers Academy. It’s a five-week course designed to promote from within the department and provide access to a new career path. Finishing the academy all but guarantees a promotion. But it’s hard work.
“It’s nose to the grindstone,” Khem said.
Khem is proud of his job, and of giving back to the community that raised him. But it wasn’t an easy road.
The son of Cambodian immigrants who in 1981 fled their home for the U.S., Khem and his family settled in Central Long Beach. He grew up without much, learning to navigate a world plagued with crime and neglect while his father put himself through school and worked construction to put food on the table.
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