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In the line of fire

By JAMES BURKY

James.Burky@gjsentinel.com

Kasie Billings stood proud on the stage at the Avalon Theatre for her Friday graduation ceremony from the Grand Junction Fire Department academy.

Her husband, Joseph, equally proud, walked onto the stage to pin Kasie’s badge onto her navy blue uniform. Tagging along were their daughters — Elaina, Haven and Kenna.

Kenna, the youngest, immediately rushed to Billings, shouting “Mommy! Mommy!” and leapt into her arms.

This made Billings’ arduous path, which had her career path put on hold to be a mother, worth it.

“That surprised me because she’s honestly quite the daddy’s girl. But I loved it, I always wanted to do this to give my daughters a role model,” Billings said. “If they follow me, that would be great. I’d love for this to be a family thing. But if not, that’s fine. I just want them to know that whatever they want, they can get to. They don’t have to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Billings was one of 13 new recruits to the Grand Junction Fire Department honored. The graduates completed a 17-week course at the academy and a three-week course at the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) training academy.

While there, they learned the basics of being first responders to more emergencies than just burning buildings.

“We have to be a jack-of-alltrades, and everyone expects us to be a master. We’ve got EMS which is most of our calls,” Billings said. “And there’s a lot to the human body and we’re the first ones there, so we have to figure out what’s wrong, how to treat you and then transport you.

“We also have hazmat, swift water rescue, ice rescue; there’s so much that goes into it. And in the 20-week academy, we just dabbled in it to, for lack of better words, get our feet wet,” she said.

The ceremony started with the recruits and other firefighters stoically marching down the aisles and onto the stage with a soundtrack by bagpipes. Awaiting them were seats for the ceremony and their firefighting gear draped over the front of the stage.

Fire Chief Ken Watkins delivered a keynote address, in which he commended the graduates and their families.

“This is a serious and sometimes dangerous job. It’s not a 9-5, punch the clock and you’re done job. It’s a calling,” Watkins said. “To the families and friends who have sacrificed a lot, my pledge to you is that the department will do everything it can to keep your loved one safe.”

“IT FEELS SURREAL”

Since graduating high school, Billings wanted to be a firefighter just like her mother, Brandi Manuppella, who also works for

See RECRUITS, page 12A

Grand Junction Fire Department recruits file into the Avalon Theatre during their graduation ceremony. See more photos on Page 5A.

Photos by MCKENZIE LANGE/ The Daily Sentinel

Thirteen recruits take their oath during their graduation ceremony at the Avalon Theater, after completing a 17-week course with the Grand Junction Fire Department academy and a three-week course with the Emergency Medical Services training academy.

. Continued from page 1A

the Fire Department.

“I loved growing up in a big firefighter’s family. We’d have cookouts with my mom’s crew, and I became friends with the kids of her crewmates,” Billings said.

“My mom helped me a lot during my training. She also reminded me how she didn’t have an academy to go through, she was just thrown into the job, so that put things in perspective when it got tough.”

Billings technically graduated weeks ago and since has started her yearlong probation period.

Now, she’s teaching skills and methods to others.

By becoming a teacher, Billings said, she’s able to test what she knows while still absorbing new information.

Friday wasn’t the end of Billings’ journey — it was just the start.

“It feels surreal. It hasn’t hit yet, and I think it will once I’m out in the field,” Billings said.

“I was in EMS before this, and now I’m more rounded out to be a better asset not only for my department, but my community as well.”

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