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Pittsburgh fire recruits join 'family' at graduation ceremony

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Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Ronald Blasko, of Summer Hill, kisses his son, Brooks, 5, after the youngster pinned on his father's new firefighter badge during graduation ceremonies in Highland Park, Friday, August 16, 2013. The twenty-seven firefighter recruits received their badges after 32 weeks of training.

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By Margaret Harding
Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 9:18 p.m.
 

The newest Pittsburgh firefighters swarmed their Highland Park training ground, showing onlookers their ability to clamber to the top of a seven-story tower, zoom to douse a fire in a metal pit, and jump from a window face-first down a ladder.

After a quick change into dress uniforms, the men returned to be sworn into their “new family.” The graduation ceremony on Friday was the first for fire recruits since 2008.

“Let me be the first to welcome you to the greatest family,” Capt. Edmund Farley told the crowd seated on bleachers and extra chairs. “Not only do you have your loved ones back, but you have 540 new brothers and sisters.”

The 27 recruits, all white male military veterans, spent 32 weeks in training, the longest of any recruit class, fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

“They received more training and more subject matter than ever before,” Jones said. “Back in the old days, the only thing you had to have was leather lungs and guts. Those are good, but I want someone who is thinking. This is a cerebral job now.”

Firefighter Larry Yakich, 35, of Banksville spent 13 years in the Air Force, earned an engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh and worked as an engineer for the past two years. But he said he knew he would become a firefighter — following his father, uncle and brother into the profession.

“It's definitely more of an exciting job,” Yakich said. “I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

The recruits' training included sessions on emergency medicine, hazardous materials, vehicle rescues, water rescues and other skills.

Another class began in February, and 28 recruits should graduate in November.

“These recruits have trained harder and are better prepared, in my biased opinion, than any prior Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire recruit class,” said Battalion Chief Michael Riley, who oversees the academy.

When the second recruit class graduates, the number of Pittsburgh firefighters will grow to 618, still nearly 50 people short of the budgeted amount of 666, Jones said. About 140 firefighters are eligible to retire this year.

“We were low on manpower,” Jones said. “We had over 100 openings. We definitely needed the recruits.”

Firefighter Mark Rowan, 30, of Lincoln Place said he thought the training was as challenging, albeit in different ways, as that he received as a Marine.

“I'm really proud to be a part of this class,” Rowan said.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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