City firefighter recruits graduate to uncertainty

By Danielle M. Williamson TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

WORCESTER — The smiles, applause and optimism in Union Station this morning overshadowed the dire fact that the 17 latest graduates of the Worcester Fire Academy don’t have firefighting positions ready for them.

The recruits graduated today after a 16-week training academy, with the knowledge that they, like their 32 police department counterparts, would be casualties of significant budget cuts.

City Manager Michael V. O’Brien late last month cut 25 firefighting jobs, most of which were reserved for the recruits.

“You’ve proven yourselves,” the manager told the recruits and their families at the graduation ceremony. “Now it’s our challenge to rise to the occasion and make your desire to serve a reality.”

The fiscal 2010 budget Mr. O’Brien unveiled last month is about $14 million less than the current year’s budget, and officials learned this week the city faced an additional $4.5 million in cuts to local aid.

Speakers at the ceremony didn’t focus on the budget crisis, however, and instead lauded the class’s accomplishments.

Class spokesman Patrick P. Johnson said he formed lifelong friendships during his training, and was immensely proud and humbled to be part of the Fire Department.

“It’s just great to have our foot in the door,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’ll have the summer off to work on our tans.”

David R. Carelli shares a congratulatory kiss with his daughter Lily, 4, after she helped in on his badge during a firefighter recruit ceremony this morning. (T&G STAFF/RICK CINCLAIR)