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Go behind the scenes for fire academy class of 2018's final test

Graduation is typically all about celebrations and parties, but not for the men and women of the Asheville Fire Department. For them, graduation is just another excuse to keep training. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Graduation is typically all about celebrations and parties, but not for the men and women of the Asheville Fire Department. For them, graduation is just another excuse to keep training.

Many recruits say joining the department is a calling.

"I just miss being there for people that need it," said Brett Carr, a fire academy recruit.

Carr is no stranger to helping people. He served in the Marine Corps for four years.

When he left, he said something was missing.

"I kind of lost that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood I miss so much,” Carr said.

In his six months of training, Carr said he found that bond he was looking for.

“It’s more like a family,” Carr said. “You're going to be living with these people for 24 hours a day for 30-plus years when you're working, and you become really close with them."

Close enough to trust each other with their lives.

"You want to know that they for sure have your back, and you want them to know that you for sure have their backs," said Lauren McAdam, another fire academy recruit.

That kind support is a quality repeatedly displayed by the recruits during their final day of training.

A day packed full of real-world scenarios, like high-rise rescues, car fires and structure fires.

Training started about 7 p.m. Thursday and continued through 6 a.m. Friday.

“They don't know what's coming,” said Capt. Dustin Cooper, the fire academy’s safety and training officer. “Just like any shift we report to, we don't know who's going to call 911, and we don't know what they're going to tell us they need help with."

It’s that uncertainty that requires the best of the best.

"It’s finding that balance of fulfilling your purpose, but also being able to stay calm and get the job done," McAdam said.

That kind of determination is why McAdam is one of 19 remaining in a process that started with nearly 700 applicants.

“Every class that graduates has worked extremely hard, and I'm proud of all of them when they come through," Cooper said.

All that’s left is a final graduation ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

By Monday, they will be full-fledged firefighters.

“I feel like it’s a lot of stress on you and a lot of weight on your shoulders,” McAdam said. “But that's what we signed up for, that's what we’re meant to do and that's what we have to do."

“I think that duty to serve really shines above everything else," Carr said.

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