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A burning desire to serve
Thirteen recruits have been hired on by the Bellevue Fire Department, and the job is there's if they can earn it.
This is Week Two of a 12-week training academy being held at the city's Public Safety Training Center where prospective firefighters from Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and Northshore are attending. The academy is staffed by Eastside firefighters volunteering to share their expertise in various areas of the job and brings in recruits from multiple agencies in an effort to build consistency of service and communication among them.
"Because we train together, we can anticipate what the other companies are doing," said Battalion Chief Bruce Kroon with Bellevue Fire. "It's really breaking down those barriers and making us more efficient on the fire ground."
Bellevue Fire lost 16 firefighters to retirement last year, and replacing staff takes time. All recruits undergoing training passed a rigorous list of qualifiers, including written and physical tests, medical evaluations, background checks and an interview with Fire Chief Michael Eisner. The academy boasts a 90-percent success rate.
"When we hire people, we hope it's a 25-30-year commitment," said Kroon. "This is a job that you come to for a career."
Steve Seiwerath had a career as a high school history teacher, but spent the past three years testing and volunteering in an effort to get into the academy and hired on to serve in Bellevue. Until his training is finished, Seiwerath will be staying with a cousin closer by than Tacoma, where the recruit said he has a wife and three kids waiting.
Bellevue recruit Daniel Sobol has worked as a firefighter before, but said he wanted the career advancement and level of training the city's department offers with "the amount of instructors they bring in from the area specializing in different areas."
Recruits are teamed together and each one is put in a temporary leadership position while at the academy, said Kroon, and many stand out immediately. Seiwerath said two weeks in and recruits are already starting study groups to get through the advanced course work. Despite being from different departments and training to be the best, he said there's no competition because everyone's goal is the same.
"It's kind of driving each other to be as good as they can be," he said.