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San Francisco Fire Department Graduates New Recruits

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) - The San Francisco Fire Department added 35 new firefighters to its ranks on Friday.

The city's first Fire Academy in six years trained speakers of Tagalog, Italian, Russian and Vietnamese. The former bartender, the accountant and the real estate appraiser were all changing careers.

Six of them have celebrated a 40th birthday. The youngest recently turned 22. The oldest, Shaun Mooney, turns 50 next month.

"I've been after this position and this career for almost 15 years. I started off as a reservist here in San Francisco, worked my way up to the commander position as a volunteer here. And it was always my dream to be a San Francisco firefighter," he said.

Mooney and his classmates now take their 14 weeks of training out into the field.

KCBS' Holly Quan Reports:

The San Francisco Fire Department graduated its first class of new recruits since 2005 at a time when cities all over the Bay Area have been laying off firefighters, even sometimes eliminating their fire departments entirely.

Chief Joanne Hayes-White said the department has been staffed lower than she would like because 70 firefighters retired last year. She had expected to lose about 55.

"So this 35 will help. It's not the ultimate solution, but certainly it's a step in the right direction," she said.

The fire department currently has 1,400 firefighters. Hayes-White said the department deliberately staffs on overtime in some situations for financial reasons, but she hopes to add another 100 over the next few years.

But no new academy classes have been scheduled. Hayes-White said she's trying to squeeze money out of her budget to hire and train more firefighters.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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