Felix Valle, 24, started as a member of the crew in 2002. After two years as a member, he was hired by a larger wildland firefighting group, the Kern Valley Hotshots. Because the work is seasonal, Valle can spend his spare time teaching the Rio Hondo trainees. “It was a great learning experience,” Valle said. “That’s why I came back to volunteer my time to help out. I enjoyed what the college was doing.” Though the crew does not put out house fires or live in a firehouse, they are prepared for the kind of massive blazes currently plaguing the Southland. The Roadrunners are called out to prevent fires with shovels and chain saws by laying down fire breaks, as well as filling positions left behind by those fighting on the front lines. Once, the crew even journeyed to Texas for NASA to help recover pieces of the space shuttle Challenger. Hours for the crew are sporadic and difficult. Most Roadrunners are paid $14 per hour, and work 14- to 16-hour shifts when they are called to a situation, generally for 14 consecutive days. Sometimes these assignments can extend to 21 days. “They need the support of their family and friends to be successful,” Bennett said. Valle said his parents worry when he is out fighting wildfires. “My parents end up getting worried during the season,” Valle said. “You hear about the fatalities.” While they are deployed, crew members sleep in tents they carry on their backs, shower and eat in temporary firefighting camps, and spend most of their time at the front lines of danger, protecting homes and lives. The work is difficult, and Bennett said the closeness of the group is important to ensure the happiness and safety of the team. “It helps if you kind of like the people you’re stuck in a bus with for 14 days,” Bennett said. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.The Roadrunners are a group of wildland firefighters fresh from graduating an intense one-semester program at Rio Hondo College. After taking the course, students are selected to become part of the group, which provides a stepping stone into the competitive world of fire prevention and firefighting. Bennett, who spent 28 years with the U.S. Forest Service before retirement, said he has been teaching in the program since its inception in 2000. Bennett, 58, said Crew 77 allows new firefighters the chance to gain experience through part-time work and helps them find jobs. Most of those employed through the program stay for one or two years, although they are allowed to stay up to four. “It’s just not a lifetime career,” Bennett said. “We’ve had 88 hired from the program into the field.” The age of those in the program ranges from 18 to around 26. • Video: Fires in Castaic• For full fire coverage vist the Special Section. SANTA FE SPRINGS – The fires burning around Southern California bring danger and destruction, but for one group of young firefighters, the flames also bring a chance to learn. Rio Hondo College’s Crew 77, known as the Roadrunners, were sent out by bus on Tuesday to the Ranch Fire near Castaic. “It could very easily be very taxing,” Rio Hondo instructor John Bennett said of the fight ahead of the 20-member crew.