Don Griffin has a new hat but he can't wear it yet.
Craig Rural Fire Protection District's only new firefighter for 2005 has to wait until Saturday before he becomes official -- when he's able to seal a year's worth of hard work as a rookie and pull on his firefighting helmet for the first time.
"I didn't expect how hard it would be physically," said Griffin who owns Jim's Tires and Auto Service in Craig. "I'm busting tires and working hard all day long and I come (to the fire station) and it's still hard."
Griffin estimates he's spent more than 100 hours in scheduled training this year. For the first few months, he said he was at the station most nights learning the intricacies of the station's trucks. In fact, that's how Griffin and his then new girlfriend, Kim Sanchez, spent most of their first dates.
"She got to know the trucks really good, too," Griffin laughed.
Four rookies started with the department in 2004, but Griffin was the only one to pass all the tests and remain interested in the position, said firefighter Doug Slaight. After a year of probation and passing physical and textbook training, the rookie already has shown potential, Slaight said.
"He's going to be a good firefighter," Slaight said. "He's shown dedication and teamwork so far. He's going to be very good."
The fire department has seven potential firefighters for 2005 poised to fill the ranks the following year. Rookies are expected to fight at least one live fire and complete training to handle hazardous materials. They also usually have to pass a long list of physical requirements to enter the force. Rookies train at meetings at least once a week.
But, training requirements have changed drastically in the past two decades, Slaight said. He recalled being a rookie in 1986, along with current Fire Chief Chris Nichols. At that time, the two future firefighters were instructed to put out a chimney fire on their very first call.
"We were expected to know what to do," Slaight said.
Currently, rookies aren't allowed on the first truck out of the station. They may answer a call if a second truck is called out, provided an extra seat is available.
The department currently boasts 23 firefighters. But the level of commitment, including the likelihood of sometimes being called out in the middle of the night, make firefighters somewhat hard to come by, Slaight said.
That's why fire officials are always training and recruiting new members, he said.
"Some realize that the time commitment is too much, Slaight said. "We lose others by attrition or when they move out of town."
Fortunately, Griffin said his girlfriend supports his decision to become a firefighter.
Griffin got his first real taste of firefighting during a structure fire on Finley Lane a couple weeks ago. He was charged with hooking up the water hoses and opening up the street's fire hydrant valve.
Still Griffin has found that firefighting is more than how he used to think of it: "just putting water on a fire."
Every detail of what is expected out of each crew member is specified down to the seat a firefighter chooses when they hop onto a truck to respond to a call.
"The rule for any firefighter is you have to know what to do for the seat you choose," he said.
But Griffin has no illusions that his first year as a firefighter won't be difficult. He knows he'll be the first one chosen to clean up, do the "dirty work," and of course, get teased.
Though that prospect doesn't bother Griffin much, he's looking forward to next year when a new batch of rookies should come on board.
"They'll push you just to see what you do when you get pushed," Griffin said.