ELIZABETH, NJ - Learning how to combat fires wasn’t the only part of Andrew Torres’ five-month firefighter training. He had to hit the books and learn basic life-saving techniques like CPR too.
“It's intense five-month training, a lot of book work,” Torres said after being a sworn in at City Hall today. "...We spend a whole month at the Union County Fire Academy, just working on fires with all the different firefighters. They come down, they'll help us out. Very tough, but rewarding."
Torres, 23, was one of 20 new firefighters sworn today. There are approximately 236 firefighters serving in the city now, including chiefs, captains and the new recruits from today, said city spokeswoman Ruby Contreras. That number comes after about 10 people within the fire department retired this year, an official said.
In his address to the new recruits, Mayor Christian Bollwage spoke of major catastrophes that the Elizabeth Fire Department responded to in the past, like the 1985 Bay Avenue blaze in Port Elizabeth. He also recalled his own experience with the department's services.
“Back in 2004 in the middle of the night, when the fire department responded to my house and put out a fire in the chimney,” Bollwage said. “I’ve watched the Elizabeth Fire Department perform, and I can tell you they are second to none in the entire state of New Jersey because they work extremely hard.”
Fifteen of the new firefighters were hired under a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. Several new recruits are bilingual too, the city said in a release.
Capt. Steve McConlogue told TAP the recruits were trained mostly in-house by the Elizabeth Fire Department. They also trained at the Union County Fire Academy in Linden.
Chief Thomas McNamara, meanwhile, told the new recruits to remember three words: “Responsibility, dedication and sacrifice.”
“You will always have to make sacrifices,” McNamara said. “You’re going to work weekends and holidays. As a firefighter, the learning never stops. You will continue your education through classes, training exercises and drills. But your sacrifices will enable you to be ready and available to serve, protect the City of Elizabeth, and most importantly, save lives.”
There was standing room only in the City Council chambers, and over 30 of those who attended today’s ceremony were from Torres’ family. Public service is a family affair for the Torreses too: Andrew Torres’ dad, Jose Torres, is an Elizabeth police detective and has worked in the department for 22 years.
“It's like a dream come true,” Jose Torres said, referring to seeing his son get sworn in. “He's worked hard and he's earned this. So I'm happy for him. I'm very proud.”
The next step for the new recruit is to graduate from Kean University, where he's majoring in business management. Andrew Torres said he'll start working at Engine 5 on Monday.
Here is a full list of all the new recruits:
Julian Hernandez, Hashim Simpson, Peter C. Marino, Angel Zetino, Matthew Blaskewicz, Patrick Kelly, Andrew Torres, Robert Petrick III, Gabriel Garcia, Dale Brothers, Mark Alves, Lukas Kraft, Othoniel Rivera, Curtis Baptiste, John Syers Jr., Adam Kinder, Julian Hilongos Jr., Eric Turner, Jayson Stolz and Steven Pertuz.