LOMPOC, Calif. - Battalion #142 graduated today from Allan Hancock College's Fire Academy on its Lompoc campus.
The ceremony, which also included a dramatic live-action demonstration, featured 25 cadets, who are now fully credentialed to become entry-level firefighters.
"This is a special day for me," said graduate Blake Heibner. "This is the day I've been waiting for since we started and it's big for me. It's big for my family. I'm the first person in my family to go through something like this and it's a big day for me."
The graduation comes at the end of a very trying year for the fire industry across the state.
"If you look at the recent months this year, (firefighting) is being tested," said Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Steve Lieberman. "We were strained. Big, huge fires in northern and southern California. We saw a fire season that we haven't seen in a long time."
Recent fires have thrust firefighters into the spotlight, with many people feeling additional resources are needed.
"We need more firefighters," said Hancock Fire Academy Coordinator Andy Densmore. "More firefighters can help ease the stress of the firefighters that are in the field for days at a time."
While many agree there is an increasing need for additional firefighters throughout the state, adding more positions isn't an easy task.
"It always boils down to funding and priorities," said Lieberman. "Smaller communities, such as those that I serve, you're limited with your funding resources and how you're going to allocate those funds."
"It's economics," Densmore said. "If I was a city manager, I would doing a risk management. Is this fire going to come my direction or isn't is and do I want to take that risk? Do I want to staff up and make sure that if it does come my way, I can handle it? Or do I want take the risk and hope that somebody from outside can come in and solve my problem for me."
As the possibility of new additional positions remains in debate, there are still jobs for graduates to fill.
"There are plenty of options out there," said Santa Maria Fire Department Chief Leonard Champion. "Plenty of departments that are hiring, so that is a bright future for these students that have just graduated."
So far, none of the 25 Hancock graduates have lined up a full-time job with a fire department just yet.
However, the feeling at Friday's graduation is the cadets will not have to wait to long to find employment.
"They have been given a great foundation to work off of and Allan Hancock College is a premier program," Champion said. "It has the newest technology. It is state-of-the-art. These students now can be competitive out in the workforce and can be successful no matter where they go in the state or the nation."
The graduation formally ended a demanding 18-week course that included 620 hours of classroom and field instruction.
“The academy is the heart of our community college – training brave men and women to enter careers in the public sector,” said Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin G. Walthers, Ph.D. “To our community, if something were to happen to your family, know that if the firefighter or police officer who responds came from Allan Hancock College, they will know how to take care of you and your family.”
According to Densmore, about 60 applicants applied for entry to this semester's academy, with only 32 accepted.
Right now, Densmore is going through approximately the same number of applicants to enter Battalion #143, which begins instruction early next year.