Meet the rookies: New firefighters relish challenge

The life of a rookie firefighter sounds more like the routine of a college freshman than that of a public servant.

The long hours of studying, learning, cleaning, taking tests and cooking are not necessarily what probationary firefighters expect when they sign up with Craig Fire/Rescue.

"It is very time consuming," rookie Otto Whisner said. "It does take time out of your life. But in the end, it's worth it."

Of the seven rookies who started the program in January, only four rookie firefighters remain -- Samantha Johnston, Kris Olsen, Doug Willems and Whisner.

"It's not easy," Deputy Fire Chief Bill Johnston said. "The four are surviving. I would have loved to put seven on, but these four have done well. But it's not over."

Rookie firefighters go through a one-year probationary period where they learn everything they can about fighting fires.

Prior to the probationary period, applicants must get though an interview selection committee, background check, psychology test, physical agility test, physical exam and an interview with the two chiefs.

Chief Chris Nichols said this year's class has had to put in a lot of time in the classroom.

At minimum, he said, rookies are required to spend 50 hours a month at the station and 90 hours on their own studying materials from books.

"The toughest part is all the hours of studying and getting through training," Whisner said. "But now that I've gone through it, it has definitely been worth it."

After studying from books, rookies have to be state certified in written and practical tests, and demonstrate their knowledge at a live burn.

The only certification remaining for this year's class is hazardous material training, the deputy chief said, but judging their performance in the field is the most critical part of testing.

"(The rookies) are on the downhill side," he said. "Now we watch and see how they perform."

Willems said the time commitment has been the toughest part, but he has had fun.

"I can't think of a reason it hasn't been worth it," he said.

Whisner has enjoyed working with the veteran firefighters and learning to fight fires.

"It's interesting," he said. "It'll be cool to help out the community and plus the training has been pretty exciting."

Although Whisner and Willems said the training has been taxing, they agreed it is an experience others should have.

"If someone has the slightest interest in it, do it," Willems said. "People need to try it."

Craig Fire/Rescue is searching for next year's probationary firefighters. For more information, contact the station at 824-5914.

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