Lafayette begins training 30 new firefighters

The largest recruit class in the history of the Lafayette Fire Department has begun training to become full-fledged firefighters.

The 30 new hires started their training last week.

“They haven’t gotten their feet too wet yet,” Fire Department spokesman Alton Trahan said. “Last week was a lot of orientation, getting acclimated to all the policies, stuff like that.”

The addition — more than double the usual number of recruits — will bring the department’s firefighting force to 297.

Trahan said most classes are much smaller, averaging between 10 and 12 recruits.

The influx of recruits was made possible in part through a $1.7 million staffing federal grant that is paying for 20 of the new firefighter positions.

“This has a tremendous positive impact on the community,” said Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit. “It will help reduce the stress all around.”

Ernesto Amador and Damien Williams, both 22, are members of the recruit class.

Amador, of Slidell, said he came to Lafayette after hearing about the department looking for new firefighters. He said his best friend’s brother, who is a firefighter, inspired him to pursue it as a career.

“It’s a brotherhood,” he said.

Williams, of Opelousas, said he’s wanted to be a firefighter since he was little.

“They run into a fire while others are running out,” he said. “It’s a selfless act.”

Not only will the addition in force help the community, but it also can ensure the safety of the firefighters themselves, Trahan said.

“When we respond with lack of personnel on the firetruck, the firefighters are in more danger because of the amount of extra work they’ll have to do,” Trahan said. “Adding the 30 will definitely help to provide our services more safely.”

Having two or three extra firefighters on the scene of an accident could save lives, Trahan said.

The recruits, set to graduate at the end of February, will spend their first few months in the classroom learning occupational therapy, fire behavior and chemistry, and how to stay safe in a burning building.

After the classroom portion is complete, they will undergo physical training to prepare for the harsh conditions firefighters endure daily.

A recruiting class would ordinarily graduate after four months of instruction, but because of the number of recruits this year, an additional two months has been tacked on.

“They’ve got a long road ahead of them,” Trahan said.