DAY 59 - GRADUATION

February 5, 2010: The day had arrived! Family and friends had gathered to see “their Recruit” take the oath and pin on the Badge of “FIREFIGHTER!” My classmates looked so young and crisp in the their bright white shirts, sporting – for...


February 5, 2010:

The day had arrived! Family and friends had gathered to see “their Recruit” take the oath and pin on the Badge of “FIREFIGHTER!” My classmates looked so young and crisp in the their bright white shirts, sporting – for the first time – the American Flag on the right shoulder, and the bold red and white “Maltese Cross” patch of the “Saint Paul Fire Department” on the left shoulder.
 
Chief Morehead was the Master of Ceremonies at the graduation ceremony. Mayor Coleman presided and handed each man the coveted badge of FIREFIGHTER. One of my classmates, Andy Bieze – our class spokesman - spoke eloquently about dreams fulfilled, going through the academy, and what it means to be a Saint Paul Firefighter. Mr. Vrona, the Mayor, Dr. Kory Kaye, Chief Morehead, and I also made remarks to the class and the audience. I was in the official capacity of Fire Chief, feeling part of the class….yet not one of them for today. It was their day – a day of unbridled success and triumph, relief, and of dreams come true! I was humbled and deeply honored to be awarded the silver and red badge of FIREFIGHTER by Mayor Coleman. It was a most fitting testament to the last 13 weeks of training!
 
My immediate and extended families attended the ceremony. Many of the younger ones took the day off from school to be there. An old Coast Guard buddy of mine came in from Milwaukee to see the show. He caught me totally by surprise by coming all that way to see me and celebrate this day with me. Kendel: you are a TRUE Shipmate and Friend! My nephew Vincent was there, along with a friend of his, Michael – both members of the Emergency Medical Rescue Service in Cannon Falls.
 
Words cannot express my joy at having completed the academy, but I did have “a few” words to say to the audience and my classmates about the Class of 2010. Here are the remarks I made to them during my graduation address:
 
 
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen! Thank you for being here today!
 
The Saint Paul Fire Department was formed in November of 1855. The department started with just three pieces of equipment: a fire engine, a ladder truck, and a hose cart – all drawn by hand.....the hands of a small band of young, strong, spirited men selected from the community they served. It was back before the era of horses and steam-powered firefighting pumps...and long before motorized vehicles......The department’s responses back then were known as “fire runs” – because the firefighters literally responded by running down the street pulling their hand drawn rigs and equipment to the scene. 
 
The firefighters were special men....selected for their physical strength, their mental toughness, and their willingness to serve others. Over the ensuing decades of service, these men became renowned for their extreme bravery, their compassion for others, and their devoted service to the citizens of Saint Paul. Today we’re here to welcome and congratulate the next generation of Saint Paul Firefighters, and to celebrate their transformation from “Civilian” to “Public Servant”...their promotion from “Recruit” to “Firefighter.” 
 
I said that Firefighters are special....and the Class of 2010 is truly a unique group of special people! Five years ago, over 2,000 men and women took the arduous Firefighter entrance exam. 2,000 people vying for a handful of jobs.....And then....there were no jobs available! In the worst economic crisis in since the 1930’s, the Department was faced with 28 firefighter layoffs for 2010, and no hope of hiring anymore from our 2005 test.  Over 700 men and women would “die on the list” as the department continued to shrink. But thanks to the leadership of Mayor Coleman, Council President Lantry, and the firefighter and chief officer unions, the City made a bold decision – the right decision for our citizens and our Department – and chose not to lay off firefighters. We fought for and secured a federal SAFER grant that permitted us to hire the Class you see before you today.
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