JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The City of Jacksonville gained 24 new firefighters Friday night during a special graduation.
After eight weeks of physical fitness tests and emergency response training, the 24 men and women officially became Jacksonville firefighters on Friday.
For 28-year-old Freddy Ortiz, it was a goal that made him emotional.
"This moment means everything to me," said Ortiz. "I've been waiting for this moment since I was a little kid."
It's a life-long dream for Ortiz and the new recruits ready to get to work without the threat of layoffs, thanks to a three-year contract negotiated between the Jacksonville Firefighters Association and the city last year, which keeps the firefighters job status intact even in the midst of budget reductions.
"When we ratified this and got it passed by city council, I knew that this was the most important article in this contract," said President of Jacksonville Firefighters Association, Randy Wyse.
The city is currently trying to get rid of a $64 million budget deficit next year. One proposal is that firefighters would pay more money into their pensions with fewer benefits, and the city would contribute less money.
"We don't react to the concept of future budget cuts. Instead, we work off of the budget we have today," said Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt. "This day the focus is on celebrating these individuals embarking on their career."
"The other day I was approached by a young man and he asked me, 'Are you a fireman,' and I almost started crying," said Ortiz. "I shook his hand and said if you want to be a fireman, you can be a fireman, so it does mean a lot to me."
Chief Senterfitt told Channel 4 the new recruits will fill 24 of his 75 staff vacancies.
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