Twenty-eight new Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) recently joined the ranks of the Arlington County Fire Department, filling several vacancies and easing pressure on the previously short-staffed force.
Family, friends and future crewmates packed the Founders Hall Auditorium at George Mason University’s Arlington campus on the evening of April 27 to celebrate the graduation of the 75th recruit class in the fire department’s history. New Firefighter/EMTs were sworn in and received their helmets and badges, and individual awards were given for various achievements during the physically and mentally grueling 28-week Fire Training Academy that recruits began last October.
The fire department’s staffing levels had been declining over the past couple of years. Before Friday’s ceremony, the department had 14 full-time vacancies in its operations division, which meant starting every day short-staffed and having to rely on members working overtime to fill the necessary seats on fire trucks and ambulances. And whenever there weren’t enough personnel to work overtime, members from the previous shift were required to stay and cover open shifts.
Combined with an increase in pay approved by the Arlington County Board in April and steps that are underway to shorten the department’s standard workweek, which is currently 56 hours, the additional staffing is expected to help the department better recruit and retain talented emergency responders.
As part of their training, graduates earned certifications in Firefighter I & II, Emergency Vehicle Operations, Hazmat Operations, and National Registry Basic Emergency Medical Technician. Topics covered in the coursework included fire science, fire history, pump operations, firefighter rescue, terrorism awareness, high threat operations and live fire training. Throughout the school, recruits participated in strenuous physical training—not just to prepare for on-the-job demands, but to be ready for the physical rigors of the school itself.
Among this year’s graduates were four Advanced Life Support (ALS/Paramedic) providers, who are part of a new department pilot to fast-track training and certification of ALS providers to get them into the field sooner. The class also included six women, bringing the percentage of females on the force to 10 percent, more than 2.5 times the national average for women in career fire service.
County Board Chair Katie Cristol and County Manager Mark Schwartz made remarks at the graduation ceremony. Ty Dickerson, Chief of the Lexington, Virginia Fire Department, delivered the keynote address. Graduates presented a collective gift to their training team. And the ceremony ended with the retirement of the class guidon, a benediction by Fire Department Chaplain Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamlin, and a formal dismissal by Captain Norman Graham.
Wasting no time, many of the members of Recruit Class 75 started serving the community just two days later on Sunday morning.