Firefighter and author Joseph Garces' keen ability to think like a kid helped him rescue a 4-year-old boy who went missing in a Santa Paula Canyon in October 2012. Now, he uses that talent to connect with students who visit the Oxnard Fire Department to learn about safety. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on March 24, 2013.
Think like a kid.
It's a skill that multi-talented firefighter Joseph Garces repeatedly has put to positive use.
Last October, on a day off, Garces was checking in on Facebook when he saw a post about a missing 4-year-old boy who had wandered off from his uncle's Santa Paula home at the edge of wilderness and was lost in a canyon.
Garces recognized the area and, living only a couple miles away, grabbed his boots and brush coat and joined the search.
It was a scorching hot day and young Anthony did not have any water, making it even more urgent to locate him.
He found Anthony (pictured below) in the shade of bushes along the bank of a dry river bed.
"We got down to the river bottom," Garces later said when asked the secret of his successful searching technique. "I just followed the path I thought a kid would take."
Thinking like a kid achieved results, as it had in Garces' other careers as an English teacher and author of children's books.
A father of three sons, Garces gets frequent refresher courses on thinking like a kid.
His first book, "Garrett the Firefighter," takes its name from his firstborn.
"From the age of about 3 or 4, he loved the fire service – absolutely crazy about the fire service, wore his fire gear everywhere," Garces said.
So it was natural for Garrett to star in the story of a small town firefighter responding to an emergency.
The middle son is more into horses. Thus he lent his name to the title of "Tyler the Cowpoke." Next to be published will be "Ryan the Pirate," named for the youngest son fascinated by buccaneers.
Garces is quick to give credit to his illustrator, Bethany Abercrombie, a friend of a friend from college days at Southern Utah University in Cedar City.
Meantime, engineer Garces has taken on a new responsibility for the Oxnard Fire Department, as its first public education officer.
His duties include making presentations to students whose teachers take them on field trips to Oxnard Fire Station 7.
On a recent Thursday, Garces was quizzing first graders from Rio Del Mar Elementary School on whom to call in the event of a real emergency.
"9-1-1," they replied in chorus.
"I think they now know 9-1-1," observed Debi Lee, mother of twin 3-year-olds who were allowed to sit-in on the presentation.
Later came instruction on "stop, drop and roll," and reminders to notify adults of matches and lighters left where kids might find them.
The students were also treated to a reading of "Garrett the Firefighter" by the author himself. Then came the opportunity to check out a fire engine inside and out, and try on some of the 70-plus pounds of gear that Garces carries when fighting a fire.
Hoisting on the air tank carried like a backpack, the gung-ho first graders insisted they could handle it.
"This is the strongest first grade class ever!" Garces exclaimed to the delight of his audience.
"He really understands how kids relate, how they deal with information," said Raul Ramirez, principal of Rio Del Mar Elementary School.
And it's not just youngsters who benefit from Garces’ expertise. He also works on safety and emergency planning with businesses, public facilities and school administration.
"He's been very critical to helping us develop our safety plans," Ramirez said.
The firefighter who thinks like a kid for some aspects of his work also thinks like a senior for other aspects.
A key part of the public education program, made possible by a FEMA grant, is to furnish 10,000 smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to Oxnard seniors whose homes currently lack those safety monitors.
After the Rio del Mar class headed back to school, Garces was asked about the challenge of thinking like a kid, something that adults often forget how to do.
"Yes we do, and I think sometimes it's to our detriment," Garces said.
Reflecting on the joy his own children find, he added, "If we can remember that life can be so enjoyable and fulfilling, thinking like a kid can help get you there sometimes."