Grit and determination

Jeff McGee readies his uniform as he and other recruits prepare for drills Thursday at the Charleston Fire Department's training facility.

Jeff McGee was once in the military. Now he wants to become a fireman.

"Being a firefighter is similar to being in the Marine Corps because there is a sense of camaraderie and we serve the public," the 35-year-old recruit said.

McGee was one of 37 recruits preparing Thursday for drills at the Charleston Fire Department's training facility.

"All recruits must pass the entrance exam and go through the required 20 weeks of training and education," said James Ghi, the department's chief director of training. Once they complete the work, they will be official firefighters, EMT-certified on a basic level and will be able to drive emergency vehicles.

"When they go out there, they will be ready to go," Ghi said.

The recruits were drilled on hoisting material onto buildings and climbing ladders in order to cut ventilation systems.

Ghi said they keep the recruits busy.

"Some of the things we do are lifting and turning large wheels, running and sprints," he said. "It may be only a 15-minute workout, but it will leave you exhausted."

On his 13th week of training, Victor Fernandez said recruits sometimes do warm-ups and stretches for the demanding job. "It takes a lot of cardio and manual labor, and definitely mental toughness," Fernandez said.

The lifestyle of a firefighter is what motivates the 33-year-old recruit. "I like going to work, interacting with folks and having different experiences," he said. "No two days are the same."

Recruits from departments in Awendaw, Folly Beach and Hanahan also trained Thursday, bringing the total to 48 students.

Ghi said that there must be cooperation and coordination in fighting fires. "It's essential to have," Ghi said. "We're like the military; you can't just go to Iraq and tell your men to 'have at it.' You have to have control and some sort of plan; otherwise, we would just be adding to the chaos."