As smoke loomed over the Santa Ynez Mountains on Monday night, Santa Barbara City Fire Capt. Tony Pighetti recalled Chief Pat McElroy asking him about the department’s eight recruits in training.
If they were to send out the recruits that night to fight the fire, the chief asked, would they be ready?
Pighetti, who had been instrumental in training the men for the past two months, responded without hesitation.
“Without a doubt, I said, ‘Absolutely,’” he told a packed conference room on Thursday, full of family and friends of the eight men who are now fully trained firefighters for the City of Santa Barbara.
After eight weeks of exercises as varied as rappelling off the cliffs at the Douglas Preserve, climbing ladders across the city and cutting holes into the roof of a home on Riviera, they were ready, he said.
Those eight received badges at a graduation ceremony Thursday: Nolan Barickman, Joshua Henderson, Michael Billgren, James Kennedy, Daniel Corrigan, Roy Segovia, Manuel Gonzalez and Roland Smith will begin their first full day Saturday as city firefighters.
The city received 510 applications for four positions, which they didn’t even advertise for, according to training Battalion Chief Jim McCoy. The city eventually expanded that to eight positions, and the candidates had to be working firefighters already.
After three resume panels, an oral review, and a medical and psych exam, the intense training began.
McElroy also spoke to the graduates, and thanked their families “because we don’t do this alone.”
“We chose you,” he told the men, adding that being a Santa Barbara firefighter means answering the call to help anyone who calls, “whether they live on a hill or on the street. We will be there.”
Each graduate had a family member pin on his newly earned badge.
Billgren said the eight weeks had allowed for friendship to be forged among the academy class.
“Any of these guys, I’ll put my life on the line for, and I know they would for me,” he said.
The graduates were completing their training just as full containment of the White Fire was announced on Thursday, and are moving into what most likely will be a busy fire season.
After reflecting on the training, Billgren summed up what lies ahead for the recruits.
“Today the real work begins,” he said.