Though fire departments around the Bay Area have been reducing their forces, taking pay cuts and closing stations, Alameda County is expanding.
For most of the 23 firefighter graduates, mock emergencies are a chance to show off for family and friends what they've learned during their rigorous training, but for a few, the demonstration represents a new beginning in a career that recently had rejected them.
Manh Tu-Huynh is one of three new Alameda County firefighters who previously were among 49 laid off last summer from the San Jose Fire Department.
"This is what I always wanted to do, so I when I was laid off, a piece of me kind of just faltered away," Tu-Huynh said. "I really didn't have a second plan. I put all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak."
Alameda County is one of a few departments in the Bay Area that's actually growing in these tough economic times. That growth is due in part to the department contracting with cities like Newark and Union City that, in the past year, has abandoned efforts to sustain their own fire services.
"A lot of it is timing," said Alameda County Fire Chief Sheldon Gilbert. "We've had a lot of retirements over the past several year, but we've also been able to take on a number of new jurisdictions as part of a regional fire service model. By reducing the overhead and sharing those costs, we've been able to preserve the funding for the firefighters on the street."
Though the firefighters from the academy went through the same training in San Jose and put in time on the streets there, all three went through 16 weeks of training in Alameda County. Gilbert said it's important that everyone within the Alameda County Fire Department is on the same page in the event of an emergency.
More than 2,000 people had applied for the 23 spots available with the Alameda County Fire Department.