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Evergreen Fire recruits ready to take the heat

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

Editor’s note: The Canyon Courier is following three people hoping to complete the Evergreen Fire/Rescue academy to get their firefighting certification. This is the first in a series of stories about what it takes to become a firefighter.

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Imagine Evergreen Fire/Rescue personnel as being similar to pied pipers: They try to lead as many as possible down the path to become firefighters.

Occasionally, their song is successful when recruits begin the nearly year-long journey to obtain a firefighter certification.

Stephanie Duncan, who has been with EFR for two years, told her colleagues at a recent recruitment event that she even tried recruiting a Domino’s delivery guy.

“Many of our recruits come from word-of-mouth,” EFR Capt. Stacee Martin said. “People wonder why we come to work dirty or late, so we talk about the department.”

Firefighters say the nature of their work and training turns them into a family — and the bigger the family, the better. Currently there are about 85 firefighters on the EFR roster, with 10 more about to complete their training this month.

“The magic number is 100,” Martin said, and because of attrition, the department is constantly recruiting. Of the 85 in the department, only about eight are women.

Three people who attended an Evergreen Fire/Rescue recruitment event recently are determined to become firefighters, and the Canyon Courier will be following them on their journey.

“I am looking forward to being in the academy,” said Jake Millenbach, 23. “I absolutely cannot wait.”

Millenbach is a Colorado State University graduate and wants to be a professional firefighter. Getting his Firefighter 1 training in Evergreen is a good first step.

“I'm feeling really confident about the fire academy,” said McKenna Cook, 18. “(The recruitment event) was an eye opener as to what I have to look forward to and what I need to continue to work on in order to prepare myself, but it is putting my dream into reality and knowing that I can fulfill what I want to achieve.”

Cook has been taking classes at Arapahoe Community College and is transferring to Red Rocks in the fall.

Cook’s parents attended the recruiting event to see what their daughter was getting into.

“I’m quite impressed,” said Matt Cook, McKenna’s dad. “She has made us proud with what she wants to do.”

He said McKenna recently was first on the scene of an accident on Interstate 25 near Johnstown, and she stayed until the EMTs arrived.

“This is what she’s meant to do,” Matt Cook said.

Kelsey Swartz, 28, a pediatric dental assistant, has her EMS certification and now wants to become a firefighter.

Millenbach, Swartz and Cook have forged an alliance, exercising almost daily to prepare themselves for the physical test.

“We push each other and help each other through our weaknesses,” Cook said. “We all plan to be in next year’s academy and want to see that we all get through. … It is really cool to see how far we have come and to know it is only going to get better from here.”

At the recruitment event, all three donned firefighting gear — pants, coats, boots, helmets and face masks, weighing a total of about 50 pounds — and toured the training facilities. Each also carried a 180-pound dummy on a short course, something they will have to do to pass the physical part of the test before they are approved to start training.

To cheers and shouts of encouragement from firefighters, the three used different techniques to move the dummy.

“That wasn’t as bad as I though it would be,” Millenbach said, “but he’s pretty heavy.”

Swartz added: “That was hard. I’ve got to get into some serious shape.”

“It’s heavy,” Cook said. “Working out every night is making it easier.”

'We don't take everybody'

Potential recruits fill out applications and undergo background checks, then face a panel of firefighters for an interview on the road to start firefighter training.

Then they must go through a physical check to make sure they can meet the demands of firefighting. They must drag the dummy, hoist a hose pack, drag a charged hose and walk 3 miles in 45 minutes with a 45-pound pack. Other tests include climbing a ladder, wielding a sledgehammer and crawling/following a hose line while in a blacked-out mask.

EFR is hoping for 20 applications by the June 1 deadline.

“Even 12 would be fantastic,” Martin said.

Training takes place on Monday nights and some Saturdays from August through May. Trainees must live in the fire district and be at least 18.

“We don’t take everybody,” Martin said. “Some don’t get it. It has to be a good fit. We’d love to let everyone try. Many times their hearts are in the right spot, but they are not physically or mentally able to do the job.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.