Daren Flores adjusted the plastic firefighter’s helmet his daughter, Willow, wore as they waited for the start of the Augusta Fire Department’s Badge Pinning Ceremony.
Less than 30 minutes later, the 6-year-old was on stage with her dad, adjusting a shiny badge adorning his firefighter’s uniform.
Flores was among 36 new recruits sworn in at the Boathouse Community Center on Tuesday.
From January to July, the recruits trained with the department to earn certifications as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
“It was pretty intense,” Flores said. “I had my eyes set on the goal, but there were a couple of days where we were broken until we couldn’t be broken anymore.”
Fire Chief Chris James commended the new recruits, asking family members to support them as they move forward.
“For what (firefighters) go through to get here, they definitely deserve to be celebrated,” James said. “For a person that is putting their life on their line to save yours, you need to show them throughout their career that you appreciate their efforts and you honor what they do.”
Michael Ruark, who worked for a local pest control company for 10 years before joining the fire department, called the ceremony “closure and relief.”
After speaking with friends who had recently gone through firefighter training, Ruark said he decided to take a chance on the profession.
“I was looking for something to make me feel fulfilled,” he said. “I was looking to make a difference and looking to do something important. This was it.”
Married with two children, Ruark knows scheduling might be a problem at first, but his family has been supportive.
“It’s an adjustment because it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “The kids love coming up to see the fire trucks, though. It’s been good all around.”
One by one, the new recruits were called to the stage to receive their badges and certificates. After they were sworn in, a silver bell tolled, officially ringing the recruits into service. Before closing, Commissioner Donnie Smith congratulated the recruits one last time before they were showered in applause.
“The fire service here in Augusta-Richmond County is one of the finest organizations in our state,” he said. “I am very proud to work on your behalf every day.”
A new class of recruits have already begun training, and is expected to graduate in about six months, James said.