Rookie firefighters graduate in Clayton County

Photos by Kathy Jefcoats
New firefighter Stefano Gooden (left) shows off his helmet Friday, after graduating from Clayton County's 14-week rookie training.

Photos by Kathy Jefcoats New firefighter Stefano Gooden (left) shows off his helmet Friday, after graduating from Clayton County's 14-week rookie training.

By Kathy Jefcoats


Elena Carranza achieved her dream of becoming a firefighter Friday, when she graduated with 19 others from Clayton County's rookie school.

The first-generation American, born to El Salvadoran immigrant parents, Carranza, 20, graduated from Morrow High School and joined the local Explorers post.

"A little over a year later, I applied to Clayton County and on the second try, I got in," she said. "Being a firefighter really interests me, and I like feeling like I can make a difference."

While most of her fellow graduates start emergency medical technician (EMT) training Monday, Carranza is ahead of the game.

"I already have my EMT training and will start paramedic training in November," she said.

Instead, Carranza goes straight to her assigned station, No. 4, in Riverdale. Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke told Carranza she will stay busy. Feilke, who is the county's first female certified firefighter, joined the department about 25 years ago.

Things have changed a bit.

"When I started out, you had to knock on the door, or count the men to make sure none of them were in the bathroom," she said, laughing with Carranza. "Once I got inside, I'd make sure to lock up all the doors. You won't have that problem, since there are separate bathrooms for the men and women now."

Carranza's parents, Fernando and Julia, and brother, Alejandro, 5, took plenty of photos of their new firefighter.

"We are so very proud of our daughter," her mother said, and indicated that her son may one day follow in his sister's footsteps.

At 5 feet 2 inches tall, Carranza is the shortest graduate of this class. Physical training was tough.

"Sometimes I beat some of the guys, so that felt good," she said. "I knew I had to hold my own in the class or I wouldn't make it."

The Carranza family was one of dozens to attend Friday's ceremonies at Tara Baptist Church.

Chief Jeff Hood told the graduates that the rookies used a half-million gallons of water, ran 64 miles, and learned more than 130 firefighter objectives, during their 14 weeks of training. He warned the families to prepare to share their firefighter with the community.

"You'll miss them at holidays, birthdays and children's events," Chief Hood said. "This is necessary in order for them to fulfill their call to service."

Hood told the graduates they are beginning service in a respected and hallowed profession.

"Most situations you will encounter will be with a citizen having the worse day of their lives," he said. "Everyone you treat should be treated like those you love the most."

Graduate Stefano Gooden addressed the crowd before giving Hood an award of appreciation.

"We made it, we did it," he said to cheers. "But we didn't do it on our own, and we thank the training staff, although we didn't always like you," he joked.