A new class of Augusta-Richmond County firefighters hit the streets last week as Fire Chief Chris James attempts to fill vacancies in the department.
Fifteen new firefighters went to work at fire engine companies throughout the city. From a class of more than 700, and after more than a year of applications, interviews and testing, the new firefighters joined the busiest trucks in town.
Deputy Chief Sterling Jones said he purposefully put the rookies there so they would see as much action as possible right out of the gate.
“The worst thing you can do is send them somewhere not busy and have them sit,” he said. “We want them out with busy, seasoned firefighters, learning everything they can.”
The new recruits agreed.
Jose Colon and Matthew Maddox joined Station No. 3 on shift B, and neither has seen a structure fire. Both are chomping at the bit.
“Oh yeah, I’m excited,” Colon said. “That’s why I signed up.”
Reflecting on the past year of their lives, both men said the process was intense and tiring. Until they graduated last month, no one in the class was guaranteed a job. Even after passing the Candidate Physical Ability Test and the acrophobia test (in which they climb a 100-foot ladder at a 75-degree angle and clap above their head three distinctive times) and being interviewed by a team of six people, they still could fail firefighter or emergency medical technician school at any point.
“You had to stay focused,” Colon said. “If you lost focus for one minute, you could be out of job.”
Colon said he wanted to be a firefighter since he was a child. He remembers visiting a fire station and how big and shiny everything was.
“There are like 10 things you want to be as a kid,” he said. “No one expects to be able to actually be one. I did.”
Maddox got into firefighting because he had a friend who was a wildfire firefighter and ended up stuck in the middle of a fire. He called his wife to say goodbye.
“Someone should have gotten to him and gotten him out,” Maddox said. “That’s part of the reason I’m here.”
Colon said he was not fully prepared for how comprehensive the EMT class would be. This was the first group of recruits required to become advanced EMT’s, one level under a paramedic. James said he changed the policy because the department was becoming more involved with EMS.
It was also the first class that was not allowed to smoke.
Colon said he has already seen the perks of being a firefighter, in the form of thank you notes from people he has interacted with on the job.
“People really appreciate what we do,” he said.
Jones said there is another class going on right now. There are 20 more vacancies in the department, which he hopes will be filled with the next class.
“We are leaps and bounds above where we were before,” Jones said. “We’re getting in good shape."