Justin Anthony knew before signing up to be a firefighter that the training period would involve many hours away from his home and family.
He's now halfway through his probationary year with Craig Fire/Rescue, and said he's glad the training has slowed down a bit.
"Early in the process, it was 15 to 20 hours a week including the weekend training," Anthony said. "Sleep was no longer a priority. I was getting maybe five hours a night."
Anthony now spends about four hours a week training for the job. He must complete one year of probationary training to be a firefighter with the department.
Deputy Fire Chief Bill Johnston said rookies complete about 500 hours of training in their year as probationary firefighters.
"In each class of probationary firefighters, we lose about one-half in that first year," Johnston said. "A lot of that is due to the time commitment involved."
Johnston said that because of an aggressive recruiting campaign last year, the department was able to sign up 29 applicants. Nine of those applicants made it through the initial selection process, and six months later, only three remain as probationary firefighters.
Johnston said the reductions are due to personal choices by the candidates.
Last year, four of seven recruits finished the probationary year and joined the department.
A selection panel of firefighters and officers conduct initial interviews and background checks and look into driving records of candidates.
A psychological evaluation is followed by a physical agility test to see if candidates can handle the requirements of the job.
Recruits are required to climb ladders and stairs with fire hoses and drag a 185-pound dummy 100 feet. Swinging a sledgehammer to move a heavy weight and carrying a roll of fire hose 300 feet are also part of the physical test.
Blood pressure and heart rates are monitored before and after the physical agility test.
Probationary firefighter Mike Beason said he wasn't as concerned about the physical agility test as he was with other parts of the process.
"I was more worried about the written test. The book is 700 pages that you need to study," Beason said. "In the test, 70 percent or better is needed to pass."
Beason said the first time he saw an application he wanted to join. He's looking forward to learning to drive the trucks and use the rescue tools.
Beason is also quick to credit the other two rookies for helping him through the process, and he looks forward to helping the next batch of recruits.
Johnston said most of the rookies they lose have trouble with the written state exam.
Candidates still in the program after the physical and written tests face a much stricter firefighter physical from the district doctor.
A selection panel approves the choice of applicants, and the fire chief and deputy chief conduct final interviews and consider opinions from the panel before approving candidates.
Probationary firefighter Will Daigle made the cut six months ago, and is now happy to be at the halfway mark.
"The first six months was tough," Daigle said. "They warned us it would take a lot of our time to get here to this point."
The rookies said the reason for joining has to do with helping people. That is a big part of being a firefighter, Johnston said.
"We are looking for men and women who thrive in a teamwork atmosphere, people who enjoy being challenged by new things," Johnston said. "We're looking for individuals who want the opportunity to help someone in what could be the worst day of that person's life."
The process begins anew today, as the department seeks out the next group of firefighter recruits.
Ads on the radio and in the newspaper begin today, and the department will be manning recruiting booths at many Craig events.
Applications will be accepted through Aug. 15.
Johnston said that those who applied last year and didn't make it, for whatever reason, should apply again. Already knowing the procedure is a benefit to the rookies, he said.
Helping people who are in an accident, or whose houses are burning, is a big part of being a firefighter.
"That's what I like about the job," Johnston said. "I get a chance to make life better."
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or firstname.lastname@example.org.