Using the significance of the anniversary of Sept. 11, the city of Moline swore in 11 new firefighters Tuesday night, the most in the department's history.
"The opportunity presented itself and we couldn't pass it up," said Fire Chief Jeff Snyder. "It's a special day in the public-safety realm of police and fire. We kind of hold this day as a sacred day for us. The fact that we could facilitate bringing in 11 of our newest employees and start their career on such a significant day was just an opportunity we had to take advantage of. It all fell into place."
On Sept. 11, 2001, a total of 343 firefighters died while trying to save people trapped in the Twin Towers in New York City.
Friends and family members filled the apparatus bay of the Central Fire Station, 1630 8th Ave., to witness Mayor Stephanie Acri administer the oath of office to the 11 new recruits: Kenneth Swanberg, David Jansen, Alec Siwek, Reno Horton, Demetrius Ash, Andrew Taylor, Joshua Olson, Carson Cheesman, Kayla Jones, Ashley Anderson and Mickenze Hoffeditz.
"I'm very excited," Acri said. "I'm so glad to see such a great crowd here because not only will (city) staff and council be supporting them, but to have friends and family here rooting for them makes a big difference."
After taking their oaths, the new recruits stepped forward one-by-one to sign their paperwork and shake Acri's hand. A line of city council members stood by, shaking hands with each new firefighter as family members scrambled to snap photos.
Jones and Anderson are only the third and fourth women hired by the department. Snyder said the department has been without female firefighters for about two years.
Anderson, 24, said she has always been interested in the medical field and in helping people. She previously worked for Genesis Health System as paramedic for two years. But becoming a firefighter is something she has always wanted to do.
"I look forward to a long career with Moline," she said. "I saw the application process was happening and it was a great opportunity. In the next year, we have so much to learn. We are going to go through a lot together; I think it's going to be exciting. It's a little nerve-wracking, but I think that's natural."
Anderson said she doesn't view herself any differently from her male colleagues.
"There are going to be challenges in this job regardless of gender," Anderson said.
Jones said they had to take the exact same physical fitness test as the men.
Jones, 24, has been working as an emergency medical technician with CGH Medical Center in Sterling. When she saw there were positions open with the Moline department, she knew it was the next step in her career.
"I couldn't turn it down, I had to go for it," she said.
The next step is to take her paramedic state exam next week before leaving for the fire training academy later this month. Jones said she looks forward to growing with the community.
"As a firefighter, you get the see the community at their worst and what you can do to better the community," Jones said. "I'm ready to grow with them and see what we can make of the city. The (fire) department is your family away from your family. They are preparing us for every possible situation."
Snyder said the department will now be fully staffed with 65 personnel, which includes 60 firefighters and five administrative staff members of chief, two battalion chiefs, one training officer and one fire marshal.
Moline Human Resources Manager Alison Fleming said in June that 186 applications were received during the 30-day acceptance period. Snyder said the applications were narrowed down to 51 viable candidates who all passed the written test.
Snyder said five of the new hires will be sent to the Romeoville Fire Academy on Sept. 24 for an eight-week course, and two will receive paramedic training using tuition assistance from the department. Four of the firefighters are already trained and ready to begin without further training.
Ash, 33, came to the department with three years of firefighter experience with the West Dundee, Ill. Fire Department. Tuesday marked his first official day on the job with Moline. The significance of beginning on 9/11 holds special meaning for him.
"It's huge; words can't explain just how much it means," he said. "The events of 9/11 played a critical role in wanting to become a firefighter. I love helping people, and I figured this would be the best way I could do it."
Ash's two sons, Eli, 5, and Oliver, 3, were dressed head-to-toe in yellow firefighter costumes for the occasion, complete with helmets. The boys eyed their father with obvious admiration. Ash will be moving his wife, Rachel, and their sons to the Quad-Cities for the job.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know the community and working with these fellows," Ash said. "It seems like a really good place to grow as a family. I'm really looking forward to being part of the fire department."