CITYWIDE — Eight men marched into the Museum of Flying at the Santa Monica Airport with a boisterous chant on Saturday.
Jeff Cusick, Armando Reyes, Benjamin Braun, Andrew Klein, Jason Silva, Eric Wickland, Jeff Adams, and Evan McManus let the crowd know why they were there.
“Who are we?” went the call. To be answered by a chorus of “SMFD!” Twice more they raised their voices and the men were clearly proud of their words, eager to have them heard by all because on this day, the chant went from an aspiration to a fact as the group was inducted into the Santa Monica Fire Department as the first class of 2014.
The graduation ceremony was a gathering of friends, family and new colleagues that honored the former recruits for their hard work while giving them a sense of their place in the history of the department.
Fire Chief Scott Ferguson said the group would do well to learn from those that have made a career in the fire service. He singled out retiring Deputy Chief Bruce Davis as an example of hard work and dedication.
“It’s Bruce and the people like him that have built this department. They’re leaving it in your hands with the expectation that you’ll take it to a place that the next generation will be proud to inherit,” he said.
Training Division Chief Jose Torres, said recruits are put through a strenuous 12-week academy where they were taught the basic skills that establish the habits required for a long and safe career.
The program has potential firefighters complete tough physical fitness goals that include running more than 150 miles, completing 8,000 pushups alongside countless sit-ups, pull-ups and other exercises. The men climb more than 20,000 stairs; work with ladders, saws, rescue tools and hoses. They learn 15 knots, survival, and search and rescue techniques. They also spend time in the classroom learning fire behavior, chemistry and best practices.
Torres said the grueling regime forged eager recruits into skilled professionals.
“(The program) is designed to test each member to see if they have what it takes to earn the right to serve the citizens of this city and be called Santa Monica fire fighters,” he said.
He said the eight men finishing the program had passed the test.
“I can assure you that they will give you everything they have to provide the best public service that you can ask for and deserve … They came to us as individuals but leave as a team, a cohesive team that will represent the city of Santa Monica, and the Santa Monica Fire Department with the utmost professionalism.”
The ceremony included a video clip of each recruit thanking the friends and family that had supported them through the process. The men also talked about the meaning of becoming a firefighter.
“It means everything to me,” said Jason Silva. “For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a firefighter. It’s a dream, my passion my goal and to be able to have this opportunity with such a diverse, progressive versatile department, it’s truly a blessing and I feel lucky every day to be here.”
Firefighter Benjamin Brawn said it was an honor to serve.
“Being a Santa Monica firefighter to me personally is going to work every day knowing there’s a chance to make a difference,” he said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the firefighters were able to spend some time with the crowd but for several, their celebrations would only last until they next morning. After receiving their official badges, the men were handed their assignments and rotations with several of them reporting for work the very next day as full-fledged members of the department.