Four rookies graduate Craig Fire/Rescue academy |

Four rookies graduate Craig Fire/Rescue academy

Scott Schlaufman

Before Thursday, rookies graduating from Craig Fire/Rescue's annual academy had been recognized in front of their spouses and peers at the department's annual Christmas party.

For the four-man class of 2010, chief Bill Johnston decided to go in a different direction.

Instead, the graduates were given a ceremony to receive their badges in front of their families at the fire station.

"We've always done this at a Christmas banquet where just them and their spouse were there," Johnston said. "Their sons and daughters, nobody ever got to see them graduate. That just dawned on me — this is how we need to do it."

The four firefighters honored at the ceremony were James St. Louis, 34, Chris Herring, 33, Raul Perez, 28, and Tyler McWilliams, 27.

Each received badges and helmets.

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St. Louis, Herring and McWilliams were all given gear with their firefighter number on it. Perez passed his hazardous materials test too late to receive his at Thursday's ceremony.

"I am a firefighter," said Perez, a coal miner at Twentymile Coal Co. "It doesn't matter if you get this or that."

To earn their badges, the recruits had to attend bi-weekly training sessions for eight months. In those eight months, they had to take tests and train physically for the job.

St. Louis, who works for the City of Craig, was named the department's rookie of the year. He said the training was made easier by the rookies around him.

"I don't think anyone really stands out more than anyone else," he said. "It's definitely a team thing and I wouldn't have been able to do what I did without the people around me, including the rookies, officers and firefighters, and my family."

McWilliams, who works at the Hayden Station power plant, is a veteran of the U.S. Army and served in Iraq in 2003 and part of 2004.

He said aspects of his military training translated to the fire academy.

"It's a direct parallel as far as the discipline goes," he said. "(You need) attention to detail, such as your equipment, attention to details as far as what's going on in the fire ground, and how rapidly the situations change, that's also a parallel.

"It was very beneficial for sure."

Perez said he joined the fire department to help people and because of the rush he gets from dangerous situations.

"It's exciting being in a dangerous situation," Perez said. "I like to be around danger, or whatever. That's why I am a coal miner."

Herring is a Craig native who works for Colorado West Bottled Water and also is an EMT for The Memorial Hospital. He said he had previously wanted to join Craig Fire/Rescue but didn't have the time.

"The community was there for me when I was growing up and I figure it's nice to give back to the community," he said. "Living here my whole life, I always wanted to be a part of it. This is how I feel like I'm being part of it."

The rookie class started with six people.

Johnston said he's pleased four rookies made it through the training, given that the typical graduation rate is 50 percent.

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