Training heats up for fire department rookies

With the start of a new year comes orientation for the Craig Fire and Rescue rookies, who firefighters say will endure a difficult 12 months if they expect to make the force.

Seven recruits are entering into a year of classes, training and test-taking that is physically and emotionally draining and time demanding. The first six months will be spent primarily in a classroom setting with courses taught by seasoned veterans on the force.

The second half of the program emphasizes hands-on activities.

"Learning how the department works is the biggest thing," Chief Chris Nichols said.

The rookies will respond to calls but Nichols said they never will be expected to perform tasks for which they have not been properly trained.

Although the work expected of them is physically challenging, Nichols said the seven who made it thus far of the 11 who applied have demonstrated the strength and endurance necessary to continue.

Now Nichols said they must juggle their other responsibilities -- family and work -- with the Fire Department.

"(The department) really is No. 3 in your life," he said.

However, the time commitment required of rookies doesn't always reflect that.

Training officer John Felten said the whole department trains the second Thursday evening of each month and during an eight-hour Saturday session once every three months.

Rookies must attend these as well as additional training sessions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. two Saturdays a month.

With an especially large class this year, Nichols is unsure of how many will endure until this time next year. Only one of four completed the program in 2004.

"How many will make it is solely dependent on their own participation, determination and initiative," he said. "We hope all seven will make it or we wouldn't have started them."

However, other factors affect completion, such as a move or time constraints. But Nichols is looking for as many to finish as possible. With many firefighters nearing their 20 years necessary for retirement, he needs men and women to fill their boots.

Rookie Otto Whisner has an uncle and cousin on the Craig force, and they drove him to do something that he thinks deeply benefits the community.

"I saw them have a lot of fun with it and they talked me into it," he said. "I'm probably going to catch a lot (of harassment) from them two, but I think it'll be all in good fun."

Rookie Jeremy Chambers has the drive of service in his blood as well. His father is a firefighter in Fort Collins.

"I grew up in the fire department, so this has always been something I wanted to do," the Army National Guardsman said. "I actually joined the military to get ready for the fire department."

He sees potential in the group with so many different backgrounds and experiences.

Other rookies include Charles Tipp, Billy Davis, Doug Willems, Kristifer Olsen and Samantha Johnston, the fifth female rookie in the history of the department.

Whisner is confident the class will complete the training and join the force as a unit.

"If we can stick together as a team, I think we'll have a good chance of getting through it together," he said.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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