29 new Tulsa firefighter grads bring force to nearly full strength
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 02, 2013
3/02/13 at 8:14 AM
Many kids want to be firefighters when they grow up, but Brien Pritchard made that dream come true Friday.
After five months of hard training, he walked across a stage and had his Tulsa Fire Department badge pinned on him, making him no longer a cadet or civilian but a member of the Tulsa Fire Department.
"I've been wanting to do it since I was a kid," said Pritchard, who was a high school teacher before he applied for admission to the latest Tulsa Fire Department academy. "It's surreal. It hasn't sunk in yet. Everything will happen so fast."
Pritchard and 28 other cadets joined the ranks of the Tulsa Fire Department at a graduation ceremony Friday at the Tulsa Convention Center. The 29 new firefighters, who will start work next week, will bring the Fire Department to just two short of its authorized strength of 676, Fire Chief Ray Driskell said.
Driskell couldn't remember exactly when the department was last at its authorized strength, but "it has been a while," he said.
Friday's class was the third Tulsa Fire Department academy class to graduate since 2008, with 23 firefighters added in June and 49 firefighters added in the fall of 2011. After the June class, the department was still 24 cadets below authorized strength.
Firefighters in the field are eager to get the new firefighters in the stations to help relieve some of the pressure they've been under to maintain adequate staffing on the firetrucks. And the new firefighters are eager to start.
Staffing levels have been maintained through overtime, Capt. Stan May said.
Pritchard said he will report to Station 2, on Edison Street near the Inner Dispersal Loop, about 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I've been waiting a long time for this."
As cadets, the firefighters spent long days doing physical training and taking tests, sitting in classrooms and gaining hands-on firefighter training.
Pritchard's wife, Melinda Pritchard, saw firsthand how much time and energy the academy took. As a firefighter's wife, she said, she's not as concerned for her husband's safety because of that rigorous training.
"Tulsa's training has helped ease my mind a little bit," she said. "I feel very proud and really happy for him."
New firefighter Kayle Greiman said the application process and interviews and then the 22 weeks in the academy amounted to a tall mountain for the cadets to climb.
Greiman excelled in the academy and was named the top cadet in his class based on academic and physical performance.
"I'm honored by that, but I'm honored just to be a part of the department," he said.
Greiman will start Tuesday at Station 23, near 51st Street and Yale Avenue.
Although the department is happy to have the new cadets, Driskell doesn't know how long this force level can be maintained, he said. Several firefighters are expected to retire in the coming few years, which will bring the numbers down again.
May added, "We have a lot of old guys that stuck around a little longer" than they would have otherwise after the economic downturn in 2008.
Driskell said he hopes to start another academy in October to make up for any retirements that may come next year.
"Any time you fall below (authorized force), you put citizens in jeopardy and you put the firefighters in jeopardy," he said.
But the class that graduated Friday will be special to him.
Driskell became Tulsa's fire chief in June, in time to oversee a previous academy graduation. This class was one that he and his staff picked themselves, however.
"It was great. I'll never forget this class," he said. "I told them: 'You're my first class. Don't disappoint me.' "
Original Print Headline: Firefighters 'ready to go'
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
New firefighters stand as Cody Wagnon (left) leads the Tulsa Pipes and Drums bagpipe band at the Tulsa Fire Department's academy graduation Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Jeremy Phillips is sworn in as a Tulsa firefighter during Friday's academy graduation. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell speaks at the firefighter academy graduation ceremony Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
With his wife, Lindsey Sinkbeil, at his side, new Tulsa firefighter Brett Sinkbeil shakes the hand of a Fire Department official at his graduation ceremony Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World