Less than three weeks after Carson City's most devastating wildfire charged through their back yard, 11 new fire recruits and their families gathered at Carson City Fire Station 2 to celebrate their graduation from the largest fire academy in this city's history.
With badly charred landscape as a backdrop, more than 100 people applauded the fledgling recruits at the Graves Lane station. Nine were hired by Carson City, and two were recruited by the Lyon County Fire District.
They beat out more than 300 applicants from across the nation.
The youngest graduating recruit, Jeff Linscott of Carson City, blushed and beamed when his father, Jim, pinned on his new badge and hugged him.
Twelve members of Linscott's family are firefighters, including his brother, two uncles and several cousins.
"It's a family tradition," Linscott said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."
Recruit Chuck Ritter, 53, shares Linscott's passion for the fire service. It just took him a little longer to realize it.
"It's been a life's dream since I was 18 years old," Ritter said. "Certain circumstances - such as raising babies - changed things a little."
Brenda, his wife of 17 years, said she supports anything that makes Ritter happy, including a job that could daily put his life in danger.
"He has a passion for it," she said. "I think it's great."
The fire department usually trains only four to five recruits at a time to fill vacated positions, but this year the Carson Board of Supervisors approved seven new positions to reduce overtime costs.
Carson City Fire Chief Lou Buckley estimated the staffing boost will cut overtime costs from $650,000 to $250,000.
The firefighters said academy training was no picnic. At times, the asphalt reached 147 degrees, and the inside of their fire turnouts during training reached 200 degrees.
"Every recruit lost about 10 pounds," recruit trainer Bob Charles said. "They only spent two to three hours in the classroom, and the rest was all hands-on."
For four weeks, recruits fought their way out of burning buildings, carried each other down ladders, and did countless push-ups, situps and laps.
Buckley said the recruits' work will never be done.
"It's a 30-year decision," he said. "That's why we pick the best of the best."
Jeff Britton, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, pinned a badge on his younger brother, Doug. He admitted fire service is grueling, but the rewards are worth the blood, sweat and tears that come with saving lives.
"You see some pretty horrific stuff sometimes, and your passion can be overwhelmed by it," Jeff Britton said, "But it's really the greatest job in the world as long as you hold on to that passion."
Contact Robyn Moormeister at 881-1215 or firstname.lastname@example.org