Craig Fire/Rescue crews' efforts have been rewarded. After months of interviewing and testing, officers have narrowed their rookie search to nine probationary firefighters.
With 29 applicants and nine surviving orientation Saturday, the department has its largest recruiting base, as well as biggest rookie class ever.
Fire Chief Chris Nichols attributes the class size to an unprecedented and aggressive recruiting campaign through the media. The department spent $4,000 on advertising, more than any other year.
"It produced the most interest we've ever had for this probationary firefighter position," Nichols said.
The nine recruits are Justin Anthony, Mike Beason, Will Daigle, Tim Felten, David Hahn, Kurtis Kostur, Robert Kincade, Casey McFarland and Krystal Voorhees.
Last year, three of seven rookies completed the yearlong training to become members of the paid-on-call department. The three newest members are Kris Olsen, Doug Willems and Samantha Johnston, a former Craig Daily Press publisher who works for the newspaper's parent company.
And the 12 months of classroom and hands-on training is not easy to complete, Nichols said. The commitment is physically and emotionally demanding and also challenging to fit into rookies' full-time work schedules.
"The hardest part is balancing family, career and putting in the time they need to complete the program," Nichols said.
Everyone on Fire/Rescue trains the second Thursday evening of each month and during an eight-hour Saturday session once every three months.
In addition, rookies must attend training sessions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. two Saturdays a month and complete a three-day class in Loveland.
Nichols said some of the rookies' previous experience would be helpful throughout the next year. Voorhees is an emergency medical technician, and Hahn was a firefighter on an Air Force base for 12 years.
Even so, all the rookies undergo the same training so that they'll be qualified to do everything required of them.
"We respect their experience, but we don't know what their actual skills are until we train them," Nichols said.
Felten, 26, was a cadet for four years while a student at Moffat County High School. He attended Casper College in Casper, Wyo., but he left just before he completed the firefighter program.
Now, he said he is ready to train with and join the department that his father, John Felten, serves with, as well. He expects a bit of razzing for the familial tie.
"I know they'll be harder on me, but I can take it," Tim Felten said. "Whatever it takes; I'm up for the challenge."
Kincade, 40, said he has wanted to be a firefighter since childhood and finally has his chance. He said he's looking forward to the adrenaline rush that comes with responding to fire and emergency calls.
Nichols said he is happy to get the rookies trained so they can assist on calls, too. Including the nine new rookies, Fire/Rescue has 30 firefighters on its roster.
"It puts us up to the highest staffing level we've ever had," Nichols said.
And though he is eager to work with the rookies and help them through the year, he said he knows some may drop out along the way. He hopes they stay focused on their training and give it all they can.
"We'll see who makes it," Nichols said. "There are no guarantees."
Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or firstname.lastname@example.org.