The Hollister Fire Department welcomed four new firefighters to its team at a June 21 graduation ceremony at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Hollister. Over 50 family members, friends and government officials attended the 20-minute ceremony, including Hollister City Manager Bill Avera and San Benito County Supervisor Jim Gillio.
Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo said the addition of firefighters Adrian Amador, Tommy Soltis, Taylor Siemann and Josh Bird was a result of a $2.59 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Hollister Fire Department was among 350 organizations to receive a SAFER grant for fiscal year 2017, according to the FEMA website. Grants varied from $9,000 to over $8 million.
The fire department received (and almost declined) the three-year grant in August 2018. It paid for the salaries of nine firefighters, Martin Del Campo said. In addition to the graduating class, the department already has two temporary firefighters and plans to hire another three.
As to why the department took this route to add the nine firefighters, Martin Del Campo said it was because of competition.
“It’s hard to recruit personnel right now because everybody is hiring,” he said. “It’s just a huge boom out there.”
The fire chief said the department had to recruit some of the firefighters from forestry and other fire services. He estimated the cost of training the new firefighters, including recruitment and testing, was between $8,000 to $10,000 per recruit.
The four new firefighters went through an eight-week academy that included written tests, physical agility tests, an interview assessment, and 400 hours of in-house training. In-house state-certified fire instructors Josh Buzzeta and Jared Utseg, engineer Adolfo Aguilar, and firefighter Michael Gerriano conducted the training.
Siemmen, one of the four new graduates, said he decided to become a fireman after working in the Forest Service because he wanted to provide medical and firefighting services in the city.
While he began studying law and politics, he said he realized he wanted to work in an environment where he could be active and outside.
“The people I graduated with are awesome,” Siemmen said. “They are a diverse bunch. Everyone has a lot of experience in different realms.”
For Siemmen, the diversity and unfamiliarity with the other recruits was the most challenging part because it took time to build the trust required by the job. Not only did they have to earn each other’s trust, they also had to prove to the fire chief that they could be trusted.
“I got to trust them to go into your house and they’re providing you medical aid or putting a fire out. I got to be able to give them the public trust that they are going to do the right thing all the time,” Martin Del Campo said. “That’s why we go through this test process, the background process, the medical process, all of that stuff. They’re top notch and they’re ready to go.”
Bird had a unique hurdle to overcome en route to his dream job: his age. Martin Del Campo referred to the 22-year-old early in the ceremony as the baby of the graduating class.
“For people that don’t get to know me, that don’t work with me because of how the fire service is and the history of it, not a lot of people my age get hired,” Bird said. He added that another hurdle was the amount of work involved. He attended an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) school after graduating high school and spent three years working in an ambulance. He then spent another nine months in the South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Consortium before joining Hollister Fire Department’s academy.
During the ceremony, Martin Del Campo said the four firefighters were ready to respond to calls the next day.
“I’m looking for great things from them,” he said. “I thank the community for providing me this opportunity to provide them with the service they rightly deserve.”
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