Verdugo Fire Academy Graduate Shines

Verdugo Fire Academy Graduate Giselle Mendieta was the first female recruit in the Verdugo Fire Academy to receive  the top award. Mendieta was sponsored by the San Gabriel Fire Department. El Vaquero caught up with her.

Can you tell us how you came to join the Verdugo Fire Academy? What was the inspiration behind it?

Since the moment I knew I wanted to pursue this career, I knew that I wanted to join an academy. I was trying to find an academy that would be close to home so that I could be with my family.

I did my research and heard about the Verdugo Fire Academy at Glendale Community College. Since its a year-long academy, I waited the year so that I could be a part of the next class. In the time being, I prepared myself and completed all my fire classes as well as my EMT class. I remember while I was in the EMT class I would go outside during break and would watch Class 19, I would tell my classmates from the EMT class that I would be there soon and I couldn’t wait. I knew that a couple months from then – with anticipation and excitement – that would be me, and I would be in Class 20.

What has been the hardest part of being part of the Academy?

The hardest part about being part of the Academy for me was getting comfortable with making mistakes. I would be hard on myself when I didn’t understand a certain skill or wasn’t good at it. I realized that I am human and that it’s OK to fail and make mistakes. Through those mistakes it pushed me to practice on my weaknesses to better prepare myself for the following week in the Academy. I realized quickly that the only way to improve was through the moments of trial and error.

What can you tell us about your background? How have you persevered?

I did competitive swimming and water polo through high school and college. I remember while swimming in college, I competed in a very important competition and it was to go to the state championship which would have been a big accomplishment. My coach and I thought that I would definitely be going. It was a big disappointment to find out I didn’t make it. I am so thankful for this event in my life because I always look back to this. I was so stuck on the idea that I didn’t make it to state that I didn’t see the big picture. You have to fail and fail a million times and work hard everyday to accomplish your dreams. How I overcome those challenging times is by accepting those failures and reminding myself that what counts is giving your everything in anything you do.

How did it feel to receive the top award cadet where you got over 100.04 percent?

I promised myself before I started the Academy that I was going to do the best I could and give my all. I wanted to make my instructors, my sponsoring agency, and my family proud. When I received the award I felt sentimental in the best way possible because I knew, in that moment, I was picturing my parents in the auditorium; my dad screaming and my mom crying. The best feeling in the world is being able to give back to your parents by showing them that their sacrifices for me wouldn’t go unnoticed. That, to me, is a feeling I will never forget and an accomplishment that will push me throughout my career. To always strive to learn, grow, and be better because of it.

What’s in store for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? What about in 10 years?

I want to be a firefighter and I’m taking the steps to make my dream a reality. I see myself in five years being a firefighter giving back the same way I have been helped. I know that making an impact comes through action and that is my ultimate goal in life and what truly makes me happy. In the next five to ten years I see myself being a firefighter having my paramedic license and genuinely just being able, in some way, through small acts, make a significance in the life of others, if I can do that then I have accomplished my ambition in life.

Your speech touched some hearts. What did you talk about in your speech and why do you think it registered so much?

When I was writing my speech I kept imagining my parents and it’s what motivated me to pour my heart  and make it sincere. I wanted the audience to relate but most importantly I wanted to end my speech with words my parents would tell me, that truly helped me summon up the courage to pursue this career. Although we graduated and all of us as a class accomplished that, the Verdugo Fire Academy is only the beginning. I wanted to emphasize that and let it known that no matter what happens to always shoot for the stars, and if you’re going to go for it, go all the way. That’s how my parents raised me; to never put limits on myself.  I am beyond blessed because my parents always believe in me, in moments when I don’t believe in myself. I wanted to honor them and share the words that meant the world to me with everyone there.


Ken Allard can be reached at [email protected].