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Grant buys six new firefighters for two years
Six new firefighters are being trained through an in-house program at the Ceres Fire Department designed to get them up to speed and on the job within weeks.

The city has hired the six additional firefighters through a two-year $1.03 million federal grant. Ceres is only one of 14 fire departments in California to win a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Approximately 2,000 cities applied across the country.

The six new firefighters - Gregory Selvera, Vince Milbeck, Zach Fowler, David Steenburgh, Chris Steenburgh and Rui Carapinha - have already been through the 480-hour state-approved firefighter I academy but are in need of a refresher course. The city is conducting its seventh academy designed to familiarize the new recruits with Ceres equipment and procedures.

"We've never had six at one time," said Deputy Chief /Fire Marshal Bryan G. Nicholes. "They look like they're doing real good."

All six have already been trained as emergency medical technicians (EMT) to act as basic medical first-responders.

Last week the recruits spent time at the regional fire training academy in Modesto, to learn hose handling and equipment use.

"It's not as easy as it looks pulling hoses," commented Ceres Fire Captain John Goulding, who was helping to oversee their training in Modesto last week. "There's eight pounds of water in a foot of line."

The group is on track to graduate at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Ceres Community Center and work the week of Oct. 21-27 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the station in limited fashion. The goal is to get all six working full force the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3.

The hiring of six firefighters will help the city achieve three-person staffing at Ceres' four fire stations. Nicholes said his department normally has nine on duty but with 11 on duty "will make a big difference in how we conduct the way we do business." For starters, extra men will mean "one guy doesn't have to do three or four tasks" at the scene of an emergency.

"It will give us an extra set of eyes and ears on a medical aid call, such as improve scene safety."

Additional personnel will also allow the companies to more quickly string out hoses before a fire assault and quicker hook up to fire hydrants.

"In our business, time is everything."

The SAFER grant stipulates that the city is not obligated to continue their employment unless the council finds general fund monies to do so.

"The concern is the funds," said Nicholes. "We also could reapply for the grant in two years."

Captain Eric Holly said two-man engine companies usually arrive within four to six minutes of a call - Ceres Fire responded to 4,000 calls last year - but are limited in response until arrival of a second unit. A safety law dictates that two firefighters may go into a burning structure only if two are on the outside.