CRAWL KEY, FL – Monroe County Fire Rescue’s Battalion Chief of Training Charlie Mather choked up Thursday as he proudly talked about the first graduating class of the Monroe County “Hot Shots” training program at the County’s Joe London Fire Training Academy.
The program started with 43 people, but only 29 successfully completed the 456 hours of intensive classroom and rigorous practical training over the past 12 weeks.
“I would like to thank this group of individuals who came together as one and chased the dream of becoming a firefighter,” Mather told the packed room that included friends and family. “I have challenged you and pushed you this entire program. … and I have one more challenge for you. I challenge you to be the best you can be.”
This new program – approved and funded by the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners – provided free firefighting and first responder training for qualified Monroe County residents in exchange for a commitment to work or volunteer as a firefighter anywhere in the Keys for three years.
“This was an amazing opportunity for my son (Angel Moreno) to get this training and be able to do something good for the community,” Sibelly Cabrera said. “I’m a single mother and didn’t have the resources to pay for it. My son has been volunteering for four years at the Tavernier fire station and now he has the opportunity to be full-time.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Denise Moreno of Key Largo, whose daughter Alexandra was one of two women to complete the training. “We want to thank the Commissioners and County Administrator who made it possible,” she said. “It’s difficult, with the gear rental and all that, but this program made it possible for her to do this now.”
Alexandra Moreno has a BA in Public Safety Administration from the College of Central Florida in Ocala and said the firefighter training was difficult, “but this is the career I want.”
The program waived the $2200 curriculum fee for qualified local residents – 18 and older with a minimum of a high school diploma or GED – to take the Firefighter I and II courses at the County’s new training facility at 56633 Overseas Highway on Crawl Key (mile marker 56.6).
The students, aged 18 to 37, successfully completed 17 performance objectives of the firefighter program and are now prepared to take the State of Florida Firefighter I and II examination. To be hired at Monroe County Fire Rescue, a candidate must also complete EMT training.
The purpose of this program is to decrease the high turnover rate of firefighters (now about 15 percent annually), which is costly and disruptive. Due to the high cost of living, Monroe County Fire Rescue has been hiring more and more firefighters who live on the mainland and commute to their assigned stations throughout the Keys.
Of the graduating class, 26 were from Monroe County and had their class fees waived.