Twenty-four recruits took the oath of office and became members of the Lexington Fire Department at a ceremony Friday at the Fire Training Center on Old Frankfort Pike.
Their induction brings the number of firefighters on Lexington's payroll to 527, 18 shy of the department's 545 firefighter positions, assistant chief David Mattingly said.
But there are no plans for a new recruit class to fill those 18 positions, Mattingly said.
The new firefighters were assigned to platoons and will begin staff rotations Monday. Firefighters work three 24-hour shifts a week.
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Susan Straub, spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, said having the new firefighters will reduce overtime costs.
To deal with a $12.5 million shortfall, $800,000 of firefighter overtime was cut from the 2010 city budget.
For firefighters at the rank of captain and below, overtime pay is equal to time and a half, Straub said. Those ranked major and above do not receive overtime pay.
About 93 percent of the staff is eligible for overtime pay, according to assistant chief David Ades.
Chris Bartley, president of Lexington Professional Firefighters Local 526, said paying overtime has become a major part of firefighter staffing because of retirements in recent years.
"At the beginning of last year, we were around 50 people short," Bartley said.
There have been three classes of graduates since late 2008 to replenish the ranks.
Bartley said it is imperative that another class of recruits starts training because of the natural turnover of the job.
"If we don't have a hiring class in motion again, we're going to get back into the overtime again," Bartley said. "You have to keep the new recruits coming in just to keep up with the shortages."
Recruits must train for 20 weeks to become firefighters.
"The first five weeks were EMT (emergency medical technician) training. The last 15 weeks were fire," said Erin Sherrill, a member of the graduating class.
"Every firefighter is at least a qualified EMT," said battalion chief Brent Frizzell. "There are also a bunch that are paramedics."
EMTs are qualified to do basic life support. Paramedics are able to do advanced life support, such as inserting IVs, intubation and administering drugs.
Families and friends of the recruits haven't seen much of their loved ones during training.
Recruits "go to the academy in the morning, get off at 4:30, then it's study and sleep," said Philana Roseberry, girlfriend of new firefighter Shane Callahan.
"It takes a special person to be a firefighter," Roseberry said. "It takes someone who's willing to dedicate their lives to saving other people's lives."
Roseberry said it also takes a patient and understanding person to be a firefighter's partner.
"Hopefully I can do that," she said.