SEBRING - From inside and outside and top to bottom of Engine 14 and Ladder 14, Kevin Reilly checked the fire fighting gear and apparatus at the Sebring Fire Department's downtown fire station.
Reilly wasn't alone Monday as a new firefighter becoming familiar with the various equipment he will have to use in a moment's notice in an emergency.
After being undermanned during a two-year hiring freeze, the Sebring Fire Department has six new full-time firefighters starting this week - two on each 24-hour shift on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Three came from the department's part-time ranks and three are recent academy graduates.
Sebring Fire Chief Brad Batz said he had been short by 10 firefighters, so with the new-hires, he still has four openings. Also, he is down one second-lieutenant, two deputy chiefs.
Batz explained: "We had been under a hiring freeze for over two years because of the economy and whatnot and until the city worked out the pension reform. These new firefighters are on a different retirement system than the older firefighters."
The city ordinance addressing the pension reform went into effect on Monday.
Batz said the applicants who meet the minimum requirements and then pass the written exam go on to the physical agility exam.
Those who pass the physical agility exam are interviewed. The final selection is based on the combined points in the hiring process.
"We are excited; we are ready to get back up to full staffing again," he said. The department's 12 part-time firefighters have been utilized to help cover for the shortage in full-timers.
During his next round of hiring, he will first fill the four remaining firefighter openings and then fill the officer positions, Batz said.
When will he have the next round of hiring?
"As soon as possible," Batz said. "But, right now we want to get these guys in and get them set and get them learning. We want to work them in and get a little experience and a little familiarity with these guys with the trucks and stuff and then we will bring in the next batch [of new-hires] through," he said.
Batz was not sure when the officer positions will be filled.
Reilly, who grew up in Stuart, said fire academy was easy.
"I have my AS degree in fire science technology so that really helped me get through," he said. "It made it a lot easier for the fire academy. Because everything you learned in the fire academy, it went more in-depth like in building construction. So there was a book and a class for each chapter in the fire academy."
New hire Craig Ahlstrom graduated from emergency medical technician school in May.
"I am new to the fire service," he said, but he had served as a volunteer firefighter north of Clermont 20 years ago. He is relocating from Clermont.
"I am excited to be in Sebring. I love the small-town feel," Ahlstrom said. "They have treated me like a member of the family that has always been here. I have seen other departments where you are just a number, you are not down here, which is fantastic."
Along with Alhstrom and Reilly, the new firefighters are: Johnathon Otto, Darin Lamb, Kevin Cornine and Melinda Geer.