Youth academy named in Vallejo firefighter's memory

VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) -- Vallejo Firefighter Robbin Mackbee had a very simple reason for becoming a firefighter.     

"He would simply say, 'Because it's the best way to give back,'" said his nephew, Dr. Micahel Wright.

He dreamed of becoming a battalion chief but never got the chance. On July 28,1980, the 27-year-old firefighter was killed while responding to a fire.  He was the first line of duty death for the Vallejo Fire Department.

35 years later, the Vallejo Fire Department is honoring his commitment to service by launching the Robbin Mackbee Firefighter Youth Academy.

The Academy serves Vallejo High School students through youth mentoring and career development.  It is modeled after an academy in Richmond that has been in place for more than 20 years.

Retired Richmond Firefighter Byron Berhel helped start that academy and says he's excited to get Vallejo's academy up and running.  

"We are looking forward to the same success here," said Berhel.

If you want a gauge of success, Berhel says you need to look no further than Richmond Fire Captain Rico Rincon. He joined the program in 1995 while it was in its second year.

Captain Rincon said his mother got him to try it when he was 12 years old and admits at first he didn't want to do it.

"I grew up in a single parent home with four children raised by my mother. The potential for mischief as obviously there for me and a lot of my friends," explained Rincon.

He says instead of sleeping in, he was up early and working.

"A lot of drilling. They kept up on our report cards," remembered Rincon. "How we are doing in school encouraged us to do a lot of community service."  

It may have been hard work, but within the first year he hooked. He was also inspired to become a firefighter himself.

He was hired by the Richmond Fire Department in 2002 and now works in the same neighborhood where he grew up. Rincon says there are firefighters in San Francisco and Oakland that also went through the academy.

It's a success that Vallejo hopes to replicate. On the steps of City Hall, leaders from the community, the city, the school and the firefighters all pledged their support.

The Fire Chief told the crowd, "The Vallejo Fire Department is all in."

Family members say they know Robbin Mackbee would be proud to know his legacy and his commitment to giving back lives on.