INDIANAPOLIS - Ross McKee is one of 34 new probationary firefighters to make the Indianapolis Fire Department's first new recruit class in five years.
Private McKee is based out of Station 20, at 1400 Emerson Avenue. It's one of the city's busiest stations, meaning McKee will be thrust quickly into the heat of battle.
It's a job McKee says he's prepared for.
As a captain in the National Guard, McKee was just a short time ago guarding military convoys in Iraq and searching the road side for improvised devices.
"I really learned a lot about myself … [how to be] calm in chaotic situations," Mckee said. "And I really learned that public service is what I was meant for."
Apparently, that realization was common among McKee's fellow service members. Of the 34 new recruits in the 2013 IFD class, 13 have served in the military.
Before becoming a new firefighter, Private Brett Keller spent a year in Afghanistan and four years jumping out of planes and helicopters as part of an Army drug task force. He says both jobs required physical fitness, mental toughness and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of the whole.
"[It's about] looking for that excitement, looking for that team, looking to be a part of a group of people that understand you're working for an organization whose mission is bigger than the individual," Keller said.
Another new IFD recruit, Wes Vanbruaene, served two tours in Iraq: one of them near the Syrian border; the other just outside Baghdad.
"Just like here in the fire house, we stood ready to go anytime anyone got in trouble," he said. "So you were on call. You had your stuff on your truck, your weapon on you. And if you got the call, you went out and you reacted to whatever the call was."
A SAFER grant IFD received to pay 21 firefighters' salaries for two years offered a bonus year of funding for military veterans.
"I won the job lottery," Vanbruaene said. "And I'm finally able to make a good career. It's a job I can be proud of."
The same grant is also expected to help IFD cut back on $5 million in overtime expenses to maintain minimum staffing levels on fire equipment.