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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The Market Gathering and Events hall in Valparaiso has opened a sophisticated craft cocktail bar with an emphasis on gin.The trendy Market Lounge at 2405 E. Morthland Drive, the former Strongbow Inn, is whipping up cocktails including a modern interpretation of the Harvey Wallbanger with vodka, fresh orange, Galliano, mandarin marmalade and a sage leaf topping, and The Old Brooklyn, a spin on the Manhattan with bourbon, maple simple syrup, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and Luxardo cherry.The Market also serves small plates including truffle fries and an "Adult Lunchable" charcuterie plate with Smoking Goose's Gin and Juice salame, as well as desserts like campfire s'mores served in a sealed mason jar, from which wood smoke puffs out when it's opened to evoke a sensory memory of a campfire."We opened a portion of the restaurant space as a cocktail lounge and pulled from some of the cooler hotel lobbies and lounges we've been to," owner Jay Rudy said. "We wanted a place where people can have a nice drink and hang out with friends. It's gin-focused because that's what we like to drink. We juice all of our citrus, use fresh premium ingredients and proper technique. There's technique and artistry to what we create."The 21+ non-smoking lounge aims at a relaxing vibe with comfy leather couches, chess boards, and an arcade game that lets people play many different vintage games.Rudy, along with Corey and Blair Muro, who also run Tomato Bar and Ricochet Tacos, took over the Strongbow space by U.S. 30 and Ind. 49 in 2016 after Luke Oil had made a last-ditch effort the save the legendary turkey dinner restaurant, a Region institution for more than 75 years. The new owners initially had a contemporary southern restaurant at the site, but shifted focus to weddings, banquets and other special events.The Market started doing pop-up restaurants last year and was looking to expand upon that."We wanted to open it up more to the public and get people excited," Rudy said. "This will get more interaction than we do as an event hall."A light food menu focuses on shareable plates, such as truffle tries, artichoke dip, duck confit on focaccia bread and veggie spring rolls. It offers different Adult Lunchables with a variety of cured meats, like the lamb Gin and Juice and Stagberry elk with blueberry; fancy cheeses like Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog and Beehive Cheese Teahive. The Adult Lunchable also comes with peppadew peppers, fried chickpeas, maple mustard and warm baguette."We've got a lot of cool stuff that goes beyond typical bar fare. We don't have any entrees but we have enough plates to make a meal," Rudy said. "They're super-shareable plates you can share with a group of people. You can just hang out with your friends with no hassle of feeling you have to leave after finishing a meal."In addition to cocktails, including The Last Word, comprised of Hendrick's Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and lime juice, The Market Lounge offers a selection of 10 craft beers on draft, including beers from Lagunitas, Revolution, War Pigs and Upland.It seats about 50 people inside and will have a patio and live music. The room can be rented out for private parties and corporate functions and for weddings. "Any wedding that ends in the grand hall also can continue the party there while it remains open to the public," Rudy said. "The ambiance is definitely modern. It's a nice setting, very intimate, with really comfy couches and armchairs."The Market will be open from 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday but will stay open later if it is busy enough.For more information, visit www.themarketvalpo.com, find it on Facebook or call 219-531-0162.Open Fresenius Dialysis Center has opened at 4016 Main St. in East Chicago's Indiana Harbor neighborhood.The treatment facility for those suffering from kidney failure is located in a new 9,000-square-foot building in the Main Street Downtown Corridor. The city and a developer partnered to replace an abandoned building in a $5 million redevelopment project. The new kidney care center was built on what had been a brownfield site.For more information, call 800-881-5101.OpenAshley Furniture HomeStore took over the big-box store formerly occupied by H.H. 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Lincoln Highway in Merrillville.A Schererville store a few miles south of the new Highland location closed in 2017.Relocated2 Old Goats Market moved from an industrial park in St. John to Cedar Lake.The boutique shop is now located at 12615 Wicker Ave. 2 Old Goats sells repurposed antiques, women's clothing, vintage items, jewelry, candles, Dixie Belle Chalk Paints, man-cave essentials, gourmet specialty food and locally made artisan goods, including from Mother Wilma’s, Smudge’s Organics, The Gourmet Goddess and Wooden Jacket.2 Old Goats teaches painting classes, and owner Abbey Sylvester said many events and workshops were coming up.The store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 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