By the time the smoke clears for 10 new fire recruits working a simulated house fire in Snohomish County, they will be a cut above the rest.
"It's tough," said cadet Maxwell Weaver. "It's extremely tough."
Weaver is part of a program called Getchell Recruits in Training, or GRIT, and the recruits have plenty of it.
"I heard it was the toughest program in the area and thought that was the one for me," said recruit Ryan Spencer.
It started 12 years ago when the Getchell Fire Department in Snohomish County couldn't get decent recruits. So they designed their own academy specifically for people who are completely committed to becoming a firefighter.
It's a boot camp-style program. Military marching is combined with a grueling physical fitness regime, and of course a full onslaught of firefighter training.
"Part of the reason we do the boot camp is because we want the best of the best," said Assistant Chief Jeremy Stocker.
The program also teaches life skills, according to Chief Travis Hots.
"These days we get some guys who come into the firehouse and don't know how to wash a pan," he said. "We want to make them people who can get along in society, not just fight fires."
Unlike college EMT courses, GRIT is a free, eight-week program that immerses cadets into the fire service. It's funded by local tax dollars. In exchange, recruits pledge one year of volunteer firefighting to the community, which provides them with critical on-the-job training.
"You have to want it, for sure, if you're going to be here," said Weaver.
About 40 percent of the recruits wash out. More than 60 percent of those who graduate find full-time jobs in the highly competitive firefighter job market right away. Sixty-seven Getchell graduates have gotten full-time jobs over the past 12 years, including nine taken on by the Redmond Fire Department alone over a three-year span.
According to Stocker, that's in no small part, because they've been through the fire in Getchell.
"I've had a lot of chiefs from other organizations tell me they look forward to seeing our guys when they come through, because they know what they've gone through and what the expectation of our organization is," he said.
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