Next generation of firefighters complete academy

Firefighters train to use and axe and pry bar to open a locked door on Monday during the fire academy.

Firefighters train to use and axe and pry bar to open a locked door on Monday during the fire academy.

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The Carson City Fire Department will be seeing six new faces, as they welcome the newest graduating class from its regional fire academy.

Friends, family, loved ones and new coworkers all gathered at the Grand Sierra Resort Friday night to celebrate the 20 firefighters who completed the 12-week program.

“Tonight is a very special and a great night because tonight we celebrate the first of many great accomplishments for you recruits,” said Carson City Fire Chief Sean Slamon.

He said while they’re required to complete 480 hours, the extra hours spent perfecting, studying and more totals to about 700 hours of work for the recruits. But Slamon said in the end it’s all worth the effort.

“You have entered into the greatest profession in the world because simply put, we help others and we impact lives every day,” Slamon said. “People look to you on their worst days and you won’t judge, you won’t ask how or why, you just help.”

Agencies such as Truckee Meadows, Carson City, East Fork, Central Lyon and North Lake Tahoe all had recruits in the fire academy, which was hosted by Carson City. Through the 12-week program, the recruits train for all necessary skills the recruits will need once they enter the fire service. In addition to classroom training, the recruits put their lessons to work training with real fire, equipment and vehicles so they’re fully aware of what to expect outside of the academy.

“The academy has its ups and downs, like any training, but this has been a good group and we have had some strong candidates come out of here,” said Carson City instructor Jesse Horton. “It is difficult because you try and fit a huge amount of training and knowledge you need in 12 weeks. Creating that solid foundation for a dynamic career in just 12 weeks is hard, there are many skills to be proficient in for firefighting.”

But when they finish, they’ll have Firefighter I, Wildfire II and Hazmat certificates. This year, they started with 24 recruits and will end up with 20 at graduation.

“It is performance based, so a lot of them are good people and hard workers, but this may not be their profession,” said Carson City instructor Bryon Hunt. “But I still give them the upmost credit, it just didn’t work for them.”

Hunt said it’s normal to lose some recruits through the process as they either under perform or realize this job may not be the right fit.

“You make it or you don’t, our departments expect and demand a high level of expectation and if nothing less, the citizens deserve the best (firefighters) and this is the place to figure out if you meet that,” Hunt said.

And completing the academy is an extremely difficult task. Blood, sweat and tears go into each day, pushing the recruits to their physical and mental limits.

“It is all brand new for me, I went through paramedic school and this is a whole new ballgame to acclimate to and do it,” said Carson City recruit Johnathan Wielkie. “It is a humbling job though and you have it be on top of it every second of every day.”

By offering a regional academy, training the new recruits together provides immense benefits for all of the agencies involved because it allows them to begin working together across jurisdictions.

“We all run calls together so to have the chance to train together before calls is great because when we are familiar with each other and our operations are intertwined,” Hunt said. “It is invaluable, you can’t put a price on that to start that training together.”

It also allows the instructors to learn different techniques from each other’s agencies so they can learn different ways of doing things.

While it’s challenging, the academy has its perks for the recruits.

“The camaraderie is the best, I played sports and I am used to having that brotherhood and this is an extension of what I have been doing my whole life,” said East Fork recruit Matthew Galas. “We joke around and make fun but that has been one of the best parts.”

Several of the recruits in this class made the switch from the brotherhood of law enforcement to that of fire as a way to serve their community in a different way.

“I thought I was going to go into law enforcement, but I jumped into EMS and doors just opened and opportunities seemed to be right there,” said Wielkie.

And their instructors couldn’t be more proud.

“In some ways, this academy has raised the bar,” Hunt said. “We have a good handful of really motivated kids, excited new firefighters coming out of this group and I think the departments will be very happy with the product.”

For the recruits, this day has been long awaited.

“To finally put everything together, be all geared up and in a hot room and to see the culmination of it (is the best part of the academy),” Wielkie said. “You can’t see it at the start, it is all the little pieces and you wonder if you will make it but now you see the big picture and it is cool. We worked our rear ends off every day on the training ground and every weekend studying at the kitchen table.”

Several recruits were honored at the graduation. Carson City recruit Peter Ryan was awarded the academic award and the academy recruit flag, Central Lyon recruit Michael Risario was awarded the drill ground performance award, Truckee Meadows recruit Kimberly Jarding was given the jovial award, Carson City recruit Wielkie was given the American flag award for his prior military service and each Regional Training Officer was awarded a plaque.

Each recruit was honored for completing the academy as well, as each was pinned with their badges by their loved ones. Smiles and happy tears were abundant as the recruits took their first steps as full-time firefighters.

“Is this the end of your journey? Of course not, it is just the beginning,” said East Fork Chief Todd Carlini.

The graduation speakers also made sure to acknowledge the instructors and families for their efforts in helping and supporting through the academy.

“The amount of time and commitment it takes is no small measure,” Horton said.

He also left them with an important piece of advice:

“Don’t add to the population until it’s time, don’t subtract from the population, don’t end up on the news, in the hospital or in jail,” Horton said. “If you are in the hospital, let it be because you are sick, if you are on the news let it be because of your heroics and if you are in jail, establish dominance immediately.”


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