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Some 400 family, friends and fellow firefighters honored 29 new fire cadets to the Los Alamos Fire Department during a special ceremony at Duane Smith Auditorium Saturday. The 19th recruitment class is comprised of two women and 27 men.
"The biggest challenge for me, being a smaller size, was the physical portion of our training - but I did it," Fire Cadet Emmy Sweers said. "It's amazing how much they are able to train us during the 20-week academy. My favorite part was going down to Socorro and working with live fires."
Sweers, 30, was born and raised in Los Alamos and has family here and in Santa Fe. She first felt the call to serve following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she said.
Sweers worked for a time with the area ski patrol before deciding on the LAFD. "It's the ideal career to keep me active, get me out in the community and allow me to help people," she said.
Fire Cadet Joe Peltier arrived in Los Alamos three years ago from Mt. Clemens, Michigan. He intended to enter the academy that year but missed the deadline. He worked under a student program at Los Alamos National Laboratory until he joined the latest recruit class in July.
"The training we received was second to none," Peltier said. "It was well put together and a great amount of knowledge came out of it - it was absolutely wonderful. All the instructors and guest instructors were fantastic and I was able to learn so many things that I never even knew existed."
Peltier, 29, has dreamed of becoming a firefighter since he was a young child. He follows in the footsteps of his grandfather who served on the Mt. Clemens Volunteer Fire Department. "I have pictures dating back to when I was two feet tall swinging on fire trucks," Peltier said. "Most of my family lives far away so I love being part of this community. The camaraderie is the best part of the job for me, it's very comforting - like a big family. The men and women I work with are smart and capable and a pleasure to be around."
Fire Cadet David Baca is from Canjilon, south of Chama. He turns 30 on Friday and brings 12 years of experience working with wildland fires for both the Carson National Forest Service and the state forestry service.
"Almost all my family are firefighters," Baca said. "My father retired from 33 years volunteering for the Carson National Forest Service and I have two brothers who are firefighters."
One of his brothers, Joe Baca, works for the LAFD.
Even with all of his experience, Baca said he was impressed by what he learned through the five-month academy. "It was intense," he said. "They poured a lot of knowledge into my head and I feel I can now help people a lot more."
Baca is married with two sons, 6 and 3 and a third son on the way. He joined the LAFD because the hours are more conducive to having a family life, he said.
Battalion Chief Edward Henry Ortiz is in charge of the LAFD training program. He is assisted by Lt. Larry Romero, Lt. Ben Sanchez and Senior Office Specialist Yvette Vigil.
The LAFD is the third largest career fire department in New Mexico. The department provides a multi-disciplined, multi-dimensional mission of fire, rescue, emergency medical, public education and life safety services to the citizens and visitors of Los Alamos County.
Included in the services LAFD provides are the protection of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, protection of the communities of Los Alamos and White Rock and assistance in the provision of emergency response for an extensive urban wildland interface.
LAFD was organized under the Manhattan Project in April 1943. At that time it consisted of seven civilian firefighters and 25 volunteer firefighters.
In September 1943, the firefighter functions were taken over by the military. The Fire Department was governed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy until the Incorporated County of Los Alamos took it over in September 1989.
Today, LAFD operates six fire stations throughout the county with 141 budgeted positions including 123 uniformed and 11 civilian.