The St. Paul Fire Department graduated 14 new recruits Friday, bringing their sworn ranks to 425.

The men completed a grueling academy.

"Through those 14 weeks, I felt like I won the lottery with this job," said Patrick Engelmann, who was recognized as a top graduate. "We ran up enough stairs to reach the top of Mount McKinley."

Engelmann said that on the first day, they ran up and down six stories 10 times. Training Chief Tom McDonough said recruits ran up and down 17,000 steps total.

Fire Chief Tim Butler recounted the 2008 search for an autistic Shoreview man who had gone missing for more than a week in the Wisconsin woods. He was feared dead, Butler told the graduates, but St. Paul firefighters who volunteered in his search decided to keep looking as the search was called off for the day.

They found the man, Keith Kennedy, alive.

"I urge you never to give up hope in your searches, or in your medical assistance," Butler said. "Never give up."