Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Seven firefighters graduate from West Plains Academy


Pat Smart was working construction when he decided he wanted to do something more than just sit at a desk. He wanted something “more active.”

“I took an ‘in the meantime’ type job in Spokane,” Smart said. “I started talking to the guys I worked with who were training to become career firefighters. They invited me on a few ridealongs and once I went, I knew this was something I would be happy doing.”

Smart was one of four recruit firefighters with the Airway Heights Fire Department who — along with three recruits with Spokane County Fire District 10 — graduated from the West Plains Structural Training Academy, June 26, in the Sunset Elementary gym. In addition to receiving his badge and fire helmet, Smart earned the Bulldog Award and was named the class valedictorian.

Smart and the other recruits went to a four-month training academy at North Bend to learn basic firefighter skills.

According to Smart, the original class started with 13 recruits before it dwindled down to seven.

He said it took the group a little bit of time to come together, but eventually they bonded.

“We went out for group meals and did other things to build the teamwork,” Smart said. “Over time it just became second nature.”

One of Smart’s classmates was Sarah Specht, a Spokane County Fire District 10 recruit who received the Most Improved Award. She said she became a firefighter to feel good about her life as well as give back to the community. For Specht, the challenge was the academic work and testing.

In addition to honoring the recruits, eight firefighters graduated from the Crew Leader Academy. Crew leaders were responsible for mentoring the recruits, as well as focusing on their own leadership skills.

Christina Quintero, who finished the Crew Leader Academy, said she took note of the mistakes she made during her time at the academy to make sure that the recruits didn’t “suffer the same way she did.”

Quintero and the other crew leaders made sure to help every recruit throughout the academy.

“I know how hard it was when I was a recruit,” Quintero said. “It was exciting to see them go through the things I went through. I’m proud of them.”

Deputy chief of training Don Malone said this group of recruits worked well as a team.

“They stood together as one and made it to the end,” Malone said. “It was nice to see them come together over several weeks.”

While he is happy that he and his teammates graduated the academy, Smart said it was a stepping-stone for them on their path as career firefighters.

Smart’s father, Steve Smart, said watching his son graduate from the academy was “fantastic.”

“He really wants to be a part of this,” Steve Smart said. “It’s great seeing him live out his dream.”

Al Stover can be reached at


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