San Francisco firefighters learn Spanish to save precious time in emergencies

On a Wednesday morningin the middle of July, class is in session at San Francisco Waldorf High School.

"So, Ha pasado antes? Has it happened before?" But, these students aren't teenagers, they're first responders, learning Spanish one phrase at a time.

"Yo soy bombero. Que tal?"

Paramedic Mike Lam is in class. But, out of uniform today.

"Today is my off duty day," said Lam. "I live not too far from here. So it's nice to roll in, in my flip-flops and learn a little Spanish."

Lam already knows English and Cantonese. "I can run calls in Chinese and take care of people," said Lam. "But, Spanish. It's like a complete different language."

Teacher Dino Rosso who teaches Spanish here in the school year gears this class to making sure first responders can act fast in emergencies.

Firefighters do have access to translator services. But, *knowing the language can save precious time.

"To have someone who can assess the situation for themselves right on the scene that's very specific to their industry that's what I'm trying to do," said Rosso.

One difference between teens and firefighters, when these students drop everything and rush out of class there's usually a good reason.

"Yeah, that happens all the time," said Rosso, after a half dozen students suddenly lept to their feet and rushed out the door. "Yeah, I'm like Bye. Something's on fire."

The department's Spanish-speaking firefighters organization, Los Bomberos sponsored this program, explaining that when responding to a call, say for someone complaining of chest pain, every moment counts.

"Basically we identify ourselves, Como estas? Que tal? And they respond back to me. Tengo dolor in mi pecho," said Mariano Elias from the San Francisco Fire Department.

Remember that phrase "que tal" because Elias says it may be the first step in figuring out how to handle the emergency at hand.

"We want to help prepare ourselves to meet the needs of the community."

After just one class Paramedic Lam has already learned that key phrase.

"Que tal, is like, what's going on? It's pretty simple and keep using it to get to what you want, so that's kind of nice."

This pilot program isn't just for San Francisco first responders, emergency workers from around the Bay Area.

The hope is this class expands to a year round program, and to other locations.