SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Savannah Fire Department welcomed 18 newly recruited firefighters Thursday morning.
The department hosted a virtual graduation ceremony for its training academy via Facebook Live.
Family and friends honked and cheered on the fresh batch of recruits from their vehicles during the ceremony.
“It’s a two-part process,” Fire Chief Derik Minard told WSAV.com NOW. “They go through the fire academy, which is approximately 15 weeks, and then they go through EMT training, which is another five weeks, so a total of 20 weeks.”
The COVID-19 outbreak happened just after hiring for new firefighters began and as many recruits started the process of moving to Savannah.
Rather than delay recruiting, fire department officials worked to modify the training process.
The new firefighters were divided into two groups and had to train virtually for some of their recruitment, which also included in-person activities at a safe distance.
“The idea was 6-foot spacing and wearing masks, and they would not be together more than groups of about seven or eight at any one time,” Minard said.
At one point, someone within the academy tested positive for COVID-19, which forced them to adjust protocol and have everyone tested.
“We then took precautions from there on out through the rest of the academy,” Minard added.
During training, recruits learned everything there is to know about working as a firefighter, including how to roll and use the hose properly, operating the fire truck equipment and using extrication equipment for cutting cars apart.
“They have to learn how to perform a search in a building in dark conditions, and they have to learn how to do that under heat; we have live fire training that we put them through,” Minard said, adding that the recruits had to navigate different mazes without being able to see.
“Because that’s how it is in a fire, you can’t see and you have to feel your way through,” he said. “So they learned the techniques and how to do it safely and how to do it without compromising those types of things.”
One of this year’s recruits is carrying on a family tradition.
Noah Gutierrez graduated Thursday with his father and older brother rooting him on.
The 19-year-old now joins them both as Savannah firefighters.
Noah’s dad, fire engineer Job Gutierrez, works out of Station 13 near Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, and his 25-year-old brother Logan is assigned to Station 2 on the Southside.
Job says he couldn’t be more proud of his youngest son.
“I had a talk with him, gave him the pros and cons of this job,” the elder Gutierrez told WSAV.com NOW.
“Cons are Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, your friends are having a party on the Fourth of July and you can’t go because you got to work,” he explained. “The pros are you have to help people, and you get a different camaraderie here with the brotherhood of firefighters, so I’m very proud.”
Noah says seeing his dad and brother excited about going to work every day made following in their footsteps a “simple” decision.
“My father is a first-generation firefighter and my brother came on six years ago, so becoming a firefighter is kind of second nature to me,” he said, adding, “I just really look forward to working side by side with the two men that influenced me.”