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They jumped out of a second story window and crawled their way through blinding smoke— now they're stepping into the next chapter of their lives: donning a firefighter uniform. 

On Friday evening a total of 44 firefighter cadets celebrated their completion of the nine-week training academy at the Multi Agency Academic Cooperative Foundation. 

The Lake County Recruit Academy graduated 31 cadets, including six women, at the St. John Fire Department. At the same time, 13 cadets were honored in a graduation ceremony at the MAAC Emergency Services Training Campus in Valparaiso.

“These individuals have made a commitment to serve our communities in one of the most noble of professions. We’re proud of their accomplishments and are looking forward to hearing about their future achievements,” MAAC Chief Stewart McMillan, founder of MAAC and CEO of Task Force Tips, said. 

The MAAC is a state-of-the-art campus that educates and trains in safety, emergency preparedness and response training on a 4.5-acre area in Valparaiso.

From three-story building rescues to blazing vehicles, those who train there are met with a smorgasbord of disasters to navigate.

Joe Martin, lead instructor for the academy, said the cadets ranged from 17 years old to age 50. As he looked at the 31 cadets before him, he said it was the best group he's had. 

He said the group took 20 online tests, 15 certification courses and spent more than 400 hours training and learning, where the cadets learned to shoulder the weight of a firefighter's uniform in every sense. 

"They left this class with 16 certifications, and they read every page of a 12-pound book, all within six months," Martin said. "All while working full-time job, working 24-hour shifts on an ambulance, dealing with crying babies, upset wives, going to kids' soccer games, trying to have personal lives. All for people they don't even know. Because when people dial 911 on their worst days, they expect the work."

One of the seats sat empty but for a bouquet of white roses, in memory of Jaclyn Nauracy, who was killed in a traffic accident last year, Martin said. Nauracy would have been joining the Lake Hills Fire Department. 

Matthew Raiser, of the Griffith Fire Department, said the group began with 44 people. 

"The 31 of us who remain have done what most of us thought would be impossible months ago," Raiser said as he addressed his fellow cadets and their loved ones. "We learned about ourselves what we're capable of accomplishing when we work together and how far we can push past our limits. It's been six months of sacrifice ... We've evolved from a group of individuals to a family, and I'm proud to call each of you brothers and sisters."

Kayla Reed, 26, of Crown Point Fire Rescue, was awarded the leadership award among her classmates, who voted for her to have the honor. 

"It's a great feeling to finally accomplish the class and training," Reed said. "I'm a paramedic, and this was the last step in my goal to serve the community to the fullest I can."

Josiah Griffin, of the Highland Fire Department, said the group helped each other through the up's and down's of climbing their way through the academy. 

"It's definitely exciting, even nerve-wracking," Griffin said. "This is the first chapter in a lifelong process. It's just one step of the journey." 

Congratulations to the graduates:

Justin Abascal, East Chicago Fire Department

Juan Avalos, East Chicago Fire Department

Dawson Calvin, Hanna Township Fire Department

Tyrone Jackson Jr., Gary Fire Department

Braden O'Kelley, Hobart Fire Department

Gage Philp, East Chicago Fire Department

James Pintor, East Chicago Fire Department

David Ramirez Jr., East Chicago Fire Department

Israel Rivera, East Chicago Fire Department

Keegan Rooke, East Chicago Fire Department

Richard Traybsza, Portage Fire Department

Marko Vukasevic, East Chicago Fire Department

Arsenio Wright, Hammond Fire Department

Angelica Anderson, Lake Dale Fire Department

Mark Arredondo, Highland Fire Department

Mark Beyer Highland Fire Department

Mark Beyer, Highland Fire Department

Andrew Dravesky, Griffith Fire Department

Rich Engelbrecht, Griffith Fire Department

Jon Fahey-Smoth, Munster Fire Department

Tyler Fraley, Highland Fire Department

Jacob Garastik, Griffith Fire Department

Alan Gardner, Ogden Dunes Fire Department

Megan Gora, Lake Hills Fire Department

Josiah Griffin, Highland Fire Department

Jared Hill, Munster Fire Department

Taeylor Holliday, Lake Station Fire Department

Carley Jansky, Lake Hills Fire Department

Robert Mcintyre, St. John Fire Department

Craig McManigal, Lowell Fire Department

Nick Melendez, Griffith Fire Department

James Molenda, Cedar Lake Fire Department

Nate Novak, Munster Fire Department

Steven Ozug, Munster Fire Department

Matthew Raiser, Griffith Fire Department

Kayla Reed, Crown Point Fire Rescue

Justin Rich, Lincoln Township Fire Department

Tom Riha, Griffith Fire Department

Jaclyn Seberger, Lowell Fire Department

Jordan Suris, Merrillville Fire Department

John Tarrant, Lake Hills Fire Department

Jonathan Teumer, Lake Hills Fire Department

Nicholas Van Sipma, Munster Fire Department

Trevor Victor, Lake Hills Fire Department

Earl Wiley, Merrillville Fire Department

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Breaking News/Crime Reporter

Anna Ortiz is the breaking news/crime reporter for The Times, covering crime, politics, courts, investigative news and more. She is a Region native and graduate of Ball State University with a major in journalism and minor in anthropology.