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Gainesville Fire Departments recruit class finishes training
City of Gainesville firefighters, from left, David Franklin, Shane Cleveland, and Luke Finley pull a ladder out of a truck for a training exercise. - photo by Tom Reed

As one of several new faces at the Gainesville Fire Department, 23-year-old firefighter Jordan Green feels he’s as ready as he can be for his first big fire call.

“I feel pretty confident,” said Green, who grew up in a family of firefighters. “It’s all about relying on your training.”

In the Gainesville Fire Department’s 134 years, there have never been so many firefighters new to the agency as there are today.

Two weeks ago, 18 new recruits graduated from seven months of training and reported for duty. Rookies now make up 20 percent of the department’s 88-firefighter force.

With so many personnel with no prior firefighting experience, it’s crucial that each shift have the right balance of veterans and new recruits, Lt. Derrick Rogers said. Senior officers will go out on every call to supervise what will be continued on-the-job training.

And while the rookies have gotten a taste of the heat and flames from controlled fires in training facilities, they have yet to go up against the blinding black smoke of a real house fire.

“A true structure fire is different,” Rogers said. “You don’t get that thick, dense, black smoke. We try to simulate it, but there’s nothing that can simulate a real fire.”

The new firefighters were hired through a $1.92 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. They brought the department’s staffing levels up to the recommended guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association.

Rogers said getting the new recruits in physical firefighting shape and emphasizing safety were among the biggest goals of training. But the lessons have only just begun, he said.

“The rest of their career they’ll learn pretty much every day,” Rogers said. “The training never ends.”

Luke Finley, 31, drove a truck before getting the chance to become a firefighter, something he said he always wanted to do. He believes the new rookie class includes a good range of ages and personalities.

“I don’t see how they could have picked a greater group of guys,” he said.

Finley said he’s not looking forward to his first major fire call.

“I’ve heard it said that the day we actually get to practice what we’ve been training for is usually the worst day in somebody’s life,” he said.