RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Just outside of downtown Raleigh at the Keeter Training Center, a group of 27 men and women are training to become firefighters with the City of Raleigh. The diverse group began their class in early July and will finish in January. Soon thereafter, they will be placed at various fire stations around the city.
However, this class is different with respect to COVID-19.
"We have a job to do," said Capt. Ben Averette, whose tenure with the department is past the 20-year mark.
"We understand a certain risk. We prepare ourselves, we train ourselves, and we take the necessary precautions at the best of our ability with the best knowledge we have of a situation in order for us to continue moving forward," Averette said.
The current class of recruits began with 30 people. Two people resigned from the program and the third was dismissed because of grades.
Averette has men and women learning the ins and outs of fire safety while teaching accountability among the group. In addition, the pandemic is not to be forgotten. Neither are the residents of Raleigh who will need emergency assistance.
"It's not as easy for us to stop and say we're going to wait until everything is passed over. It's a new challenge to us," Averette said. "But it's kind of a necessity to an end for us."
From November 1 through the end of the month, the department will be accepting applications for recruits for its next academy class, which is scheduled to start in April or May.
New fire chief hire, Herbert Griffin, said education is paramount. Griffin was recently hired from Houston to fulfill the city's role for a new fire chief.
He is also learning the culture of the department.
"A challenge is an opportunity," Griffin said. "Everywhere across the nation, we are faced with this pandemic. No one prepared for this. COVID got every organization flat-footed."
Just last week, Griffin said the department had 10 positive cases of the virus. Upon their return to work, a person would need to have two negative COVID tests.
The cases come just weeks after Clayton deputy fire chief Jason Dean lost a battle with COVID-19.
"This is a tough time for everybody out here for public safety ... so what we're doing now is trying to keep our people educated about the actual COVID," he said. "And the harmful effects COVID can bring to an organization like this."
The annual starting salary is $38,058 with a 3% increase upon graduating from the academy.
To find out more on how to apply to become a firefighter, visit the City of Raleigh's website.