Recruits’ Futures May Be up in Smoke

Budget ax may swing toward firefighters training at the academy


Thirty-nine new fire department recruits are training hard to pass the academy, but their jobs are already in jeopardy.

Roderick  Dick, 47, is one of 39 firefighter recruits in the last stage of training. 

"I'm their parent's age," he joked about his fellow recruits.

Dick has a very impressive background, including a degree in electrical engineering and and master's degree in business, plus decades of work experience. Other new recruits include a former chiropractor, an "ultra marathoner" who has for run 23 hours without sleeping, a star college quarterback and Tanner Bixler,  a UC Davis economics graduate who climbed Mount Everest at the age of 20.

What they have in common, besides their commitment to passing the final academy test, is the uncertainty of their future. They're currently making about $2,800 a month, plus benefits, as recruit firefighters for the city of San Diego. But the city faces a huge budget shortfall, and Mayor Jerry Sanders asked every department to submit a 2010-11 budget proposal that cuts 27percent  from their current budgets. That could mean $54 million in cuts for the fire department -- some of the newest firefighters won't have a job even if they complete the academy.

The recruits are painfully aware of that reality but say they won't let it affect their performance or their attitude.

"Yes, I am worried about, you know, a job in the future, but I'm not going to let it affect my performance," Bixler said.

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