After three years, Omaha welcomed a new group of firefighters on Friday.
The last time a class of candidates became firefighters in Omaha was 2009. The last time the city signed a new fire contract was 2007. Next week, a new contract could be approved.
Thirty-one men and women took part in the ceremony held at the city of Omaha’s Public Safety Training Center. The graduation marked the end of a grueling 17 weeks of training, studying and hard work.
"You look at these 31 people and you look at the talents they have, this is one of the most talented classes we have ever hired,” said Omaha Fire Chief Michael McDonnell.
The flagged-draped auditorium set the stage for the next chapter in Omaha’s history. "Let me start with another number here, 90. Anybody know what that is?” asked Dustin Talacko, a new firefighter. “That is number of steps out there on the training tower."
For Sam Douchey, firefighting is in his DNA. "It's been a proud tradition in my family. My grandfather was a firefighter, my father was a New York City police officer, my cousins were firefighters in NYC, just a proud tradition that I am happy to be a part of it and continue the legacy."
And then there was DJ Rashone, it was fitting his wife and daughter pinned on his new badge. Friday marked the end of a long, circular route. “I started in Bellevue in Nebraska, then got a full-time position up in St. Paul, Minnesota knowing this was always home."
More than 2,000 applied for membership in this class. None were deterred by the lack of a fire contract. "We will work together over the course of your careers to achieve the common goal of safe working conditions and top wages and benefits,” said Steve LeClair, the Omaha Firefighters Union president. He said the contract is on the brink of being signed.
"We've addressed the problems to ensure that firefighters going forward will be working under the safest possible conditions."
Adorned with brand new badges and hugs from family and friends, the next step for the new graduates was to get to work. "It's going to be a roller coaster ride," said Rashone. "I will be looking forward to some rest at some point, but not here for a while."
Saturday will be the first day of work for the firefighters.
As for the contract, all 629 current firefighters along with the 31 new firefighters will vote either yes or no via a secret ballot. The 31 will also be covered by the new contract if approved, LeClair said. The vote takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.