CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - After an intense six month program, 19 men crossed the stage at Burke High School Friday to receive a badge welcoming them to the ranks of the Charleston Fire Department.
"This is a second family," said Clint Yutzy, a new graduate. "We went through 26 long weeks and the relationships that you build during something like this is great. It's awesome."
Yutzy, who receive the Top Recruit award, and his classmates arrived at the City of Charleston Fire Department at the right time.
"If we're getting new people it means we're retiring people, getting promotions and we're growing," said Fire chief Karen Brack. "Those three factors lead us to needing more people."
Brack says if the Fire Department is in need it's a good thing because it means it's growing. And that's exactly what's happening.
"These guys will fill spots created through attrition and retirement and then the new guys were getting ready to hire will be for the ladder truck and the companies we're putting in service," said Battalion Chief Randy Carter, who trained the recruits.
Chief Carter says the department now has more than 300 firefighters to serve the city's 120,000 residents.
That's roughly one firefighter for every 400 people. Carter says that's the norm for departments nationwide.
"It takes a lot of people to serve the public and the city of Charleston at the level we serve at," he said.
But according to Brack in the coming months the department will be in need of more fire fighters. A new group of recruit will start a six month class in August.
Out of the 32 names on the list to attend, the department hopes to hire at least 30 to fill company openings at new stations thanks to a city tax increase this year.
"Any time you bring new firefighters into the organization it gives us an opportunity to brush up on things we may not have looked at in a while," said Brack. "That's the future of this organization."\
Battalion Chief Carter says the 19 graduates will primarily be used as EMTs. He says their hire is apart of an initiative to have at least two EMTs on every truck in the City.