Presidio High School welding students dedicate projects to fire department training

Eric Mendoza and Aldo Cortez of the Presidio High School welding program present a volunteer project to the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department. Photo by Sam Karas.

PRESIDIO — At a special ceremony on Tuesday evening, representatives from Presidio ISD and the Presidio Volunteer Fire Department gathered to celebrate the work of a team of young welders. Career and Technical Education teacher Jesus Zubia presented the department with two pieces of new training gear alongside high school students Eric Mendoza and Aldo Cortez.

The students’ projects — a forced entry simulation door and a special pan to practice using fire extinguishers — took around three months of work to complete.

The door will help train firefighters how to respond to a fire in a building that’s not easy to enter — whether through a locked door or an entrance barricaded by debris. The door is about 8 feet tall, made with a frame of sturdy poles and a heavy metal panel that can be rearranged to fit different simulations. 

The students’ other project — a pan that will be used to practice using fire extinguishers — has a platform and a wide base where fires can be safely started for training purposes. 

Presidio Fire Chief Saul Pardo was excited about the new gear — he said his crew had responded to a structure fire a few days before where they had to breach a door. “If people don’t have practice, they’ll spend more time figuring it out — but there’s some easy tricks to it,” he said. 

For Zubia, the project played into a greater personal vision: of creating a self-sustaining community. Instead of always having to call in experts to make a long trip to Presidio, he hoped some of his Career and Technical Education students would stay close to home. “We’re growing our own people,” he said. “We’re growing our own construction workers, our own welders, our own electricians. We’re growing our own EMTs and firefighters.”

He felt that the welding program in particular was special, allowing kids from a disadvantaged community to step off the podium at graduation into a well-paying career — the same certification, given elsewhere, could cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

His welding class — which serves upwards of 60 students — is free. “Some of our community members don’t have the money [for certification],” he said. “But these kids could be making $70, $80 an hour welding as freshly-released graduates.” 

High school seniors Mendoza and Cortez said that — while they didn’t think they were going to become full-time welders — they’d come to appreciate welding as a trade and an artistic outlet. The two worked on a trailer for the school’s SkillsUSA solar car and completed some creative projects together. 

Along the way, they’ve picked up a ton of skills: drafting, measuring, collaborating. They’ve also learned the basics of wiring and working with electricity.

Mendoza’s favorite solo accomplishment was a sculpture commemorating fallen American soldiers that earned top marks in competition for its craftsmanship and message. He said he enjoyed the process of breathing life into ordinary objects. “It was made completely out of junk that was on the floor,” he said. 

Cortez has a lot of welders in his extended family, so when he learned there was a class at the school for welding, it felt like home. Though he’s planning to join Customs and Border Protection after graduation, he’s glad to have the knowledge in his back pocket. “It’s a skill that will always stay with me and will be useful for the future,” he said.