By about 8:30 p.m. Friday, firefighter recruit Trevor Snodderly had been on his feet running live fire drills for close to nine hours.
Despite the physical strain of “Night Ops” — a continuous, 12-hour training period designed to close Class 21’s academy session — the 22-year-old was all smiles, already looking ahead to graduation.
“I’ve been dreaming about this job since I was a little boy, and with graduation approaching next Friday, it’s finally setting in that I’m going to do this,” Snodderly said last week. “We got our station assignments today, and I’m going to Green Valley, Station 25, but really I don’t care where I would have been sent. Anywhere I go would have been a great opportunity.”
The 23 recruits in the class had an added incentive to stay focused on the tasks at hand Friday, as their family members and friends were invited back to the academy grounds for the first time since the opening week of the session in December to watch several training scenarios from 6 p.m. until just before 8 p.m.
Filling the bleachers in front of the training facility’s burn building, parents, children, aunts, uncles and other well-wishers watched as their loved ones handled first a rescue from a burning building, followed by an explosive demonstration at the nearby gas prop involving a wrecked car.
“We danced around the kitchen when we heard he got into this recruit class, so to see him here, now, so close to graduation, is very, very special,” said Margaret Nelson, whose son, Austin Nelson, is in the class.
Nelson came into the academy with several years of experience as a volunteer firefighter under his belt, but his parents said they still noticed a drastic change in their son during his time at the academy, especially after he was made platoon leader of Class 21.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of his ability to organize and bring others into the process of trying to work with a group of men and women, and that’s been a really good thing for him. So, we’ve seen a lot of growth in that regard,” said Kevin Nelson, Austin’s father.
Throughout the academy, the proud parents were constantly aware of their son’s enthusiasm for his chosen profession.
“He would come home at night and say, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this! I can’t believe I get to do something I love to do,’” Margaret Nelson said.
The last exercise kicked off at about 11:20 p.m. Friday, well after the families had left, coming across as a call for a fire to the rear of the academy grounds.
When the engine arrived a few minutes later, the recruits were confronted with a towering wall of flames engulfing at least two vehicles and multiple wooden pallets. Undaunted, the team of responders battled the blaze with gusto, seemingly immune to the fatigue from spending an entire shift on the run.
After the fire was finally under control, Lt. Mike Webb, the class’s lead instructor, called the entire class out to one of the dumpsters that the class had used during its fourth week to learn about extinguishing garbage fires.
While the recruits were busy with the last training call, the instructors had lit a much smaller blaze in the metal dumpster, fueled by logs and wooden planks.
“I’m proud of every single one of you. Congratulations! You did it. You’re done,” Webb said, pacing back and forth before the class. “But you’ve really just begun, right?”
As the recruits nodded in agreement, their eyes were suddenly pulled to a stack of envelopes Webb pulled from his back pocket.
“So we’ve got some business to take care of,” the lieutenant said, handing the recruits back the resignation letters he made each of them write at the beginning of the academy to turn in if they ever felt like they couldn’t go on. “We need to get rid of these.”
As the recruits stepped up one at a time to commit their letters to the fire, each wore a different expression. Some were solemn-faced; others smiled with barely concealed excitement at their accomplishment, but none of them was likely to forget Webb’s final lesson:
You don’t have to do this job. You get to do this job. It’s a privilege.