Steven Goode On Oct 28, 2017
Oct. 28–With the graduation Friday of 36 recruits from its training academy, the Hartford Fire Department received a much-needed influx of new firefighters.
The 23rd recruit class in department history originally numbered 40 and was culled from an initial list of 700 applicants. The class began 16 weeks of training in July at the training academy on Fisher Road. A graduation ceremony was held at the Black Box Theatre in the Learning Corridor in Hartford.
“You are coming to the only Class 1 fire department in New England,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said, referring to the highest classification a department can receive for firefighting services. “You are driven by a sense of service and we are so grateful and proud for that.”
Bronin also warned the recruits that there would be family events missed, long nights home alone for their loved ones and a lot of overtime working for a badly understaffed fire department that has been losing large numbers of experienced personnel to retirement over the past year.
Even with Friday’s graduation, the department is short about 40 firefighters, according to Hartford Fire Chief Reginald Freeman.
This summer the department implemented forced overtimeto cover shift shortages and through an agreement with the union local, officers were allowed to take overtime shifts on apparatus.
More are expected to go by the end of the year to avoid having their health benefits cut under the terms of a new contract that saved the city $4 million, Freeman said. The number of retirees won’t be clear until December, Freeman said
But more reinforcements are on the way. The department recently received a federal grant that will allow it to hire 70 more firefighters in the next three years. A class of 45 is expected to begin in November, Freeman said.
On Friday, Deputy Chief of Training William Kerr, who will be among those retiring by the end of the year, told the recruits that the department would become their second family and that although they were graduating, they weren’t finished learning.
“Your training is never finished. Learn something new every day,” he said.
Kerr also noted that several of the recruits were the children of firefighters he came on the job with.
“I can tell you fathers, they did you proud,” Kerr said.
Hartford native Gloria Gerena was chosen to speak for her recruit class. Gerena, who noted that it was her third time graduating from the theater’s stage in the Learning Corridor, said she grew up in a city where her life could have gone in good or bad directions.
She thanked her mother and grandmother for serving as role models, which she also intends to do for Hartford kids as a firefighter.
“The city of Hartford and your families are in good hands,” Gerena told the audience.
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