YONKERS, N.Y. – Growing up, Michael Minasso knew he wanted to be a Yonkers firefighter.
He looked up to several of his neighbors who served in the department. And as far back as career day in his kindergarten class, being counted among Yonkers’ bravest was always at the front of Minasso’s mind.
Now, the 29-year-old and roughly 30 of his fellow “probies” are a little more than one month away from making that a reality.
“As soon as I could speak, that’s all I wanted to do my whole life,” Minasso said. “I’m just very grateful to have the opportunity to fulfill that dream."
The Yonkers Fire Department’s newest members are finishing up their 11th week of a 16-week training course at the Westchester County Training Facility in Valhalla. For eight hours a day, five days a week, the group of probationary firefighters has been learning all aspects of the job - from bailing out of burning buildings to administering CPR on an accident victim.
“It’s very intensive,” Fire Commissioner Robert Sweeney said. “It’s part classroom and part hands on.”
On Wednesday, Mayor Mike Spano and County Executive Rob Astorino joined Sweeney at the Valhalla academy center to observe a course.
They watched as the firefighters-in-training extinguished a burning van while others removed the roof of a crumpled car and brought its passenger to safety. At the far end of the facility, a small group practiced descending from ropes down a multi-story building.
It makes for an exhausting day, but the firefighters weren’t complaining.
“This is a dream come true for us,” Chris Lavelle said. “I feel like a firefighter. It’s a thrill to be here.”
Lavelle and his classmates will graduate from the training program on Friday, June 7. By the end of the weekend, they will be stationed in firehouses around the city, ready to respond to calls.
“It’s very exciting, very nerve wracking,” Minasso said. “It will really sink in when were on the stage getting those diplomas.”
When the new firefighters hit the streets, they will be used to fill vacancies within a department that is currently about 50 members short of being fully staffed.
“It will certainly help add to the staffing normally on duty, cut down the overtime and save the city some money,” Sweeney said.
Still, exactly how much money the new firefighters will be paid remains uncertain as city officials and firefighter union leaders continue to wrangle over the terms of a new contract.
According to the existing deal, which expired in 2009, they would receive an annual starting salary of $70,996. City officials, however, have been pushing for lower starting pay during ongoing contract negotiations as part of an effort to reduce costs within the department.
Union leaders have resisted and the two sides are currently engaged in binding arbitration supervised by the state, meaning the new firefighters’ salary has yet to be determined.
Spano said Wednesday he hoped to reach a deal shortly, adding he would like to bring in a second class of firefighters. If all goes according to plan, the next group of probationary members will pass through the training academy in September, with hopes of bringing the department to full staffing.
“Unfortunately we were involved in labor negotiations and that has put, at times, the hiring on hold,” Spano said. “We anticipate our negotiations will conclude by then and we will be able to hire our next class.”
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