Orange County Fire Academy on reality TV

I didn’t know (or care) that my DIRECTV service included the “Fox Reality Channel” until I checked tonight, but on Saturday, October 24 they will carry the first of 10 one-hour episodes of a reality show that will follow 29 fire recruits as they go through the 18-week basic firefighter academy with the Orange County Fire Authority in southern California.

The series, titled “The Academy: Orange County Fire” will be one of the last on the Reality Channel, which announced last week that they will cease to exist next spring.

This is apparently the third season of The Academy. The first two focused on recruits of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as they participated in an 18-week training program.

Orange County has their fair share of wildland fires. Two of the more recent large ones include the Freeway fire of November, 2008 and the Santiago fire of October, 2007.

FDNNTV has a video report about the show.


The first episode of the series will be aired on DIRECTV October 24 at 10 p.m. MT, 9 p.m. PT. It may appear at a different time on other systems.

More information: Orange County Fire Authority’s web site and Facebook page.

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13 thoughts on “Orange County Fire Academy on reality TV”

  1. It is very clear to me that those taking the lead at OCFA put safety first and care what happens to each one of the men and women in their charge during the training at their Academy which, in turn, is reflected in the care and concern the trainees pass on to those who become helpless victims of an unexpected calamity in their lives. Discipline is a safety issue – without discipline, lives WOULD be lost. The level of expectation of these recruites is high for a reason. If you have ever had an inadequate response to your emergency or that of your loved one, then, you immediately feel that someone else could have done a better job. Welcome to OCFA’s idea of a better job! They are THE best! They are EXCELLENCE in action! I admire each of those in leadership in the capacity of OCFA! I wish their methods of training were mandatory throughout the U.S.

  2. As a firefighter myself, I quickly lost respect for Contreras. He may be a good firefighter for all I know, but he strikes me as the type who gets a little bit of authority and then likes to play the hard nosed drill instructor.

    And I find it ironic that he’s constantly talking about the physical demands of firefighting, yet he’s by far the most overweight person on the entire show.

    1. Hi Ryan
      I would not be so quick to put the out of shape sign on Capt. C.!
      He looks not much more out of shape than a Captain I remember from Orange County Station 4.
      This Captain do a one man 35′ carry, New Port Shuffle (a method of turning a ladder, by jamming one leg on the ground, sliding your hand up the beam, forcing the ladder over, reversing direction of your body catching the ladder in opposite direction.) (NOT OFFICIALLY TAUGHT) and place back on Engine.

      1. OK! First thing is to remember this is TV! The next is Suck it up it’s not that tuff! Today’s Firefighters have it much to easy, they want it all, know it all, and don’t know anything! Get over it! Young men die everday for less pay and more work!

  3. When I learned of the program I started watching and recording.
    I had my first full time job as a fireman in C.D.F Orange County station 27 in 1972. The fireman training at that time was at Station 4 Irvine, the Cadre consisted of (Sully) Foreman Sullivan, Foreman Jones,don’t remember who the others were. It was nothing like what I see in this training, Sully had complete respect of each and every trainee, he understood you get respect by giving respect.

    I trained inmates in my time with C.D.F. and was asked often what branch of the services I had been a Drill Instructor, which I took as a great and rewarding compliment since I never had the chance to serve in the armed services. I have to think that this training is just a small part of the recruit policy of OCFA,I would put a boot camp in the process propr to this training, I would put the “Make and Break hose training exercise into the boot camp portion, this would pull the attention to direction into the class room and give these recruits a good respect for the directions.

    I would love to make one suggestion to Captain Contreras that would be one that I learned quickly in training inmates, “When you want them to listen understand and pay attention, WHISPER!”

    I have been retired since 1989 and that burning desire has never left me! I respectfully ask the marine core to allow me to share their slogan in this manner “Once a Fireman always a Fireman!

    I share the Marine Core birth date
    of ii-10!

    God Bless all who serve this great country no matter what branch, or uniform.

  4. I started watching this show because my husband was a firefighter for 22 years. I immediately took a dislike to Captain Contreras and his methods. My husband also taught EMT classes for the state we live in and while I understand the importance of knowing these skills, whether firefighting or medical, I also know that belitting and talking down to people doesn’t teach anything. While the teaching needs to be firm, because lives are at stake, the need to put yourself on a pedastal and act as if you are a gift to all mankind is unacceptable in my opinion. I’m surprised anyone makes it through training with this man at the helm.

    1. As one of the recruits’ wives, I have to say that reading these comments actually brought about great emotion. It is so relieving to me to see that others were able to interpret from the outside the belittling that took place during this academy. The “editing” as mentioned didn’t even reveal the worst of it (which took place at times behind closed doors.) For me, it was hearbreaking because my husband is such a respectable man that was treated with total disrespect the entire academy. I believe that there are much more effective ways to train and even discipline than the tactics used by Captain Contreras and I see him as a sad man who could stand to see himself on playback. Hopefully he does not belittle his own boys the way he belittled my amazing and kind husband. And, ps-if you watch the OCFA firefighter recruitment video, there is a Mark Twain quote that reads, “Stay away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the truly great make you to feel that you too can be great.” Talk about irony.

      1. Mrs. Recruit:
        The main problem I see with Captain C. is the way he dress’s people down in front of others. I would hope that the harshness would have only been one on one behind closed doors!

        In my opinion and my training tells me that when training groups of people the group discipline is a more productive method, without singling anyone out. The first mistake I saw was on the first day with the Family members, I would have taking that opportunity to explain to all.

        “The safety of each and everyone of these recruits depends upon their ability to face the hazards of fire fighting, and for the ones who did not make the grade they would be given an opportunity to step aside with dignity!

        No one truly understands the mindset of a Firefighter accept someone else who faces the potential of death on each and every call! When You face live fire and understand that it may be your life that saves others, You and you alone must make the choice, and ask your wife and family each time you go to work to pray for your save return. My wife did this for me for over 20 years, I am quite aware that without her prayers I would have lost on wild fires two in Riverside, and one in San Diego County!

        Please do not judge all fire fighters by this Capt. or the unjust treatment and disrespect shown in front of the group, as this is not real life of fire fighting.

        I was shocked at the attitude over the nap, the training I had was catch a cat nap at any time allowed, for you never can be sure as to what the next 24 hours has in store.

        If Your husband is lucky enough to survive or get into another fire department, tell him each time he goes to work how much you love him and respect the service he provides to the community the serves!
        God Bless!

  5. Bill,

    I’ve never been in the military either, but I do remember some of the “hell week” practices of times gone by.

    Here are two articles appearing in in which Captain Contreras is helping to get veterans into the Fire Service:,15202,196318,00.html,15202,199337,00.html

    From OCFA: “Michael Contreras is the Wellness and Fitness Coordinator for the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) in Irvine, California. His duties include overseeing the department’s 36 trainers, designing and implementing various fitness programs for over 800 firefighters and for the department’s recruit academy. He has been with the OCFA for 17 years, during which time he has been a firefighter, firefighter/paramedic, and captain/paramedic. Mike is an ACE certified fitness trainer and CrossFit level-2 instructor.”

    At the 2008 “Firehouse Expo Conference”, Captain Contreras and Exercise Physiologist Nancy Espinoza presented a topic known as, “What is Firefighter Fitness?”

    Knowing the Orange County Fire Authority standards pretty well, I am fairly sure that Capt. Contreras has been to several leadership courses throughout his career.

    As far a having been through Army Basic Combat Training, I can ask them if Captain Contreras has been in the military… if that really matters as part of the discussion?

    Like all basic training (including fire and police academies), you start out by breaking down barriers and personalities… and then start building the folks back up to the performance levels and standards you expect from folks entering your profession… and then you lead them for success.

    1. Ken, you referred to “breaking down barriers and personalities”. Breaking down barriers is one thing, but breaking down personalities is taking it to the extreme and will give you negative results.

      The way the show is edited, which may or may not be different from the reality, leaves a viewer with the impression that the recruits are continually beat down verbally until their only option for survival in the academy is to become a non-thinking robot. I wonder if that process results in the Orange County Fire Authority getting the types of firefighters that they really need? And, how many of those will turn into a clone of Capt. Contreras?


  6. I have been watching the Orange County Fire Academy too, and was hesitant to compare the chief instructor to a drill sergeant, since I never served in the military, but it’s interesting to hear your point of view, Maj. Ballard.

    I realize we are only seeing on TV what the editors want us to see, but the chief instructor does far more criticizing and breaking down of the spirit and confidence of the recruits, than he does to encourage them. I have trained a lot of firefighters and never felt the need to mentally beat them down the way it is shown on this program.

    I received an email from the wife of a firefighter who pointed out that he does much of his verbal abuse while the trainees are busting their asses in full turnout gear while he watches wearing his office uniform and holding a cup of coffee.

    I wonder if this program, Orange County Fire Academy, accurately represents the training philosophy of the Orange County Fire Authority?

    Thanks for your comment, Maj. Ballard.

    Bill G.

  7. The Chief Instructor watched HEARTBREAK RIDGE once too often. This fellow should be setting the example by doing what he is demanding of the Trainees.

    Maybe this fellow should take a course in leadership or go through Army Basic Combat Training.



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