Hartford's fire department received a boost Friday as 19 newly minted firefighters joined the force, and officials said as many as 50 more recruits are on their way.
The additional recruits, the department's largest graduating class in 22 years, are expected to join the ranks this spring. They will help the department get closer to its staffing goal of about 370, said Deputy Chief Daniel Nolan, who is in charge of training for the department. The current level is slightly more than 300.
Friday's recruits — the first recruit class graduation for Hartford in five years — received their badges in a ceremony at a Learning Corridor theater on Washington Street. The ceremony, attended by department and city officials, recognized completion of the department's grueling 14-week instruction course.
"You're really going to be the next generation of firefighters, " Mayor Eddie A. Perez told the new firefighters. "You are our first line of defense."
Hartford Fire Chief Charles A. Teale Sr., who himself graduated from the city's fire education program 25 years ago, said he was glad to see the department get reinforcements.
"It's certainly been a rough time not having a recruit class infiveyears," he said.
Among those recruits was Terrell J. Lewis, 26, whose dream of becoming a firefighter was nearly derailed when his mother accidentally dropped him off in the wrong place on the day of his initial entrance exams.
Panicked, Lewis flagged down state police Sgt. Donna Tadiello, who gave him a ride to the right location, arriving moments before the start of the test.
Despite a rocky start, Lewis said that the rest of his training was "smooth sailing" and that he was excited to begin work.
"I want to go houses, I want to drive the truck. I'm just ready to be a firefighter," he said.
Of the approximately 500 initial applicants, Nolan said, 25 candidates were selected to enter the first class of recruits at the training academy, with six dropping out before graduation.
Nolan explained the unusually long drought between graduating classes was the result of low turnover, with some members of the force staying on as long as 37 years.
It's the experience and trustworthiness of such veterans Assistant Chief Michael A. Parker said was most valuable on the force.
"You all look good in your uniforms — the uniforms apparently fit," he told the recruits. "Now we'll see if you fit the uniforms."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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