Hilary Larivee has spent almost half of her life working toward becoming a firefighter.
On Friday, she graduated from the fire academy in Carson City. On Saturday, she started the first day of the rest of her working life, a 48-hour shift for her new employer, the Storey County Fire Department.
“I’m going to jump in, I’d say, head first. I hope my experience on an ambulance and the reserves makes it a little smoother for me,” 30-year-old Larivee said.
Larivee was the only woman in the fire academy and previously worked for years on ambulances in Reno and then at Renown Medical Center as a paramedic technician. At her new job, she will be both a Storey County firefighter and a lifesaver.
“It’s taken 13 years,” she said. “It’s the best feeling I can possibly imagine. To try for so long when I’ve seen so many people give up. Nothing was going to stop me from doing this. I’m glad I never gave up. I knew it would come one day.”
Larivee started a natural resources degree at Colorado State University and left with one year left. She came back to Northern Nevada and went to Truckee Meadows Community College for her associate’s degree in fire sciences, going through the Truckee Meadows fire academy.
In between then, when she first started as an Explorer and now, as a full-time career firefighter, she had a child and worked internships and as a reserve, as an emergency medical technician and as a paramedic both on ambulances and in hospitals.
“I’m extremely happy, really. A little bit of weight is off my shoulders,” Larivee said Thursday. She added with a grin, testing was not over. All of the academy graduates received their tests from the state fire marshal’s office before graduating.
Everyone who finished the academy passed the tests.
“If you want something bad enough, know it’s what you’re meant to do, nothing else is good enough,” she said.
The academy graduates will start at five fire departments, with different engines, captains, protocols and traditions but at the academy, they were all the same: new recruits, together.
“There’s the camaraderie, thrown in with five different departments,” she said. “I’ve made new friends. In the future, if I were to see one of those guys on a fire, I will be able to trust them and they will be able to trust me. That’s the biggest part, the life-long friends and acquaintance.”
Recruit Training Officer Bryon Hunt said the academy will forge the recruits together as life-long friends.
“They bled together, they sweated together. They will be friends for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Even though Larivee will work for the Storey County Fire Department, she has learned how the other four departments in the academy work.
“We learned each of their (trucks) and set-ups,” she said.
Some times that level of familiarity with other departments equipment can save time on a fire line and some times, it can be much more profound.
The recruits, during their wildland fire training week, learned how to connect each department’s different kind of hose to one another — something they had to learn on the ground.
Connecting hoses during a wildland fire is one thing, but sharing oxygen tanks in a burning building is a whole other story. The recruits learned how to function with each other’s equipment, instead of needing to figure it out on a potential fire.
DREAM COME TRUE
Mark Drury, Jr. 24, wanted to be a firefighter since he was 18 and at 24, he’s made a quick of entering his career.
“Right out of high school, I did entry level classes (in fire science) and the fire academy at TMCC and then I did five seasons of wildland fire fighting. It was the toughest job I’ve ever had.”
Even though the jobs were seasonal, he was finally able to save enough money to send himself to paramedic school, graduating in February, shortly before he started at the fire academy and consequently, his job as a firefighter and paramedic with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.
“I was able to save, got in (to the paramedic school) and finished that and here I am,” he said.
Drury will start this Friday, using the days off to hit the golf course.
Even though he went through the other fire academy, spaced over a school semester, the six-week academy in Carson City was another beast.
“It’s been tough. There’s a higher standard. Here, you are a firefighter and are expected to perform like one,” he said.
Larivee and Drury both pointed out the graduates have completed more than 3,000 push-ups during the course of the academy, a small about of pride swelling in their arms.
The Truckee Meadows academy prepared him a little but the wildland fire fighting prepared him more.
“It’s more of a mental game,” he said. “You have to want to be here.”
For Drury, going through the academy has not quite prepared him for the entire reality of his new job.
“It’s a dream come true … (But) it hasn’t sunken in. I haven’t done a shift at the fire house,” he said.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Academies in the past ranged from one recruit to five, with the last record set at 12. With 27 recruits, more than double the previous record, something new has been forged.
“It’s real historic for this city,” Hunt said.
The academy is not easy. The recruits start in the morning and, during the last week, went as late as 11:30 p.m., fighting propane fires in the dark desert air.
“It changes the whole (experience) when you’re doing it at night,” said Dan Albee, Carson City Fire Department captain.
In addition to all the recruits, the trainers and extra personnel bring the total number on the site, next to the airport, to around 60, Albee said.
In Northern Nevada, most agencies work together, providing mutual aid, to help each neighboring county or jurisdiction in times of fires or emergencies. In addition to Carson City, Storey County and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, also known as Incline Village, and the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District all helped pay for and put recruits through the academy.
Instead of one agency footing the entire bill, all five agencies share both the costs of the academy and also pool their expertise and equipment.
“We’re giving these guys all the told they need to put in their (fire fighting) toolbox,” Albee said.
“If you want something bad enough, know it’s what you’re meant to do, nothing else is good enough.” — Hilary Larivee