2010: the class that almost wasn’t a class at all! 20 out of 2,000 were selected for their physical strength, their mental toughness, and their willingness to serve others. The members of this class waited five years - some waited even longer - to be called up and offered the chance of a lifetime. One has waited since he was a kid, really – a young Saint Paul Fire Explorer eager to one day pin on the badge of a Saint Paul Firefighter. One recruit is the grandson of veteran Firefighter “Red Haslach.” Red served over 38 years with the department and is now 102 years old – he’s with us today to watch his grandson graduate! Welcome, Red!
Like the phoenix – that mythical bird that rises from the ashes of destruction – we brought forth a new spirit of hope from a dying hiring list, and we’re incredibly blessed as a department and as a City that these recruits answered that telephone call with an emphatic YES! We had to reach two of them as they served military tours in Iraq. One was called while on his honeymoon in Hawaii. One was called on the same day that he received an offer to join the Dallas, Texas Fire Department. Yes, we are incredibly lucky to have them here, and blessed that they have answered the call to serve. And so they came to us....from Saint Paul...from Minneapolis....from Saint Cloud and Duluth, and Dallas, and Hawaii, and from the sandy hot hills of Iraq.....
I joined them on their 13-week journey through the FireAcademy, and shared their transformation from “Civilian” to “Firefighter.” I saw first hand how incredibly talented and spirited they were...how quickly they bonded into a team. For the first few days of class they were quiet and reserved, excited.....eager....yet restrained. I think it was on about the third day - when someone loudly passed gas - that the ice was finally broken! From then on, you could not restrain their passion for the job or the success of their classmates. They quickly bonded to help each other succeed, and everyone freely shared their experiences and strengths with the group. They were strong and bold, and the spirit of youth was upon them. I could not be more proud of them.....and I was honored to be counted as one of them.
We learned the trade....we learned some tricks of the trade. We strengthened our bodies and ran endless flights of stairs. We endured the rigors of survival skill training and controlled burns....and the equally demanding task of studying all 37 chapters in the course textbook and a 3” think binder of department policies and procedures. The physical and mental demands were enormous....and these men not only succeeded, but EXCELLED!
Life in the academy was a full-time job and required a full-time commitment. I personally want to thank Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith, Executive Services Director, John Swanson, and the members of my senior staff: they took over most of the work of “Fire Chief,” and allowed me to attend this academy. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the precious gift of “opportunity!”
I also want to profoundly thank Chief Keith Morehead, Captain Jerry Deno, Training Officer Clarence “Hawk” Hawkins, and Lead Instructor Bernie Vrona. These 4 men were our instructors at the academy, and their experience, judgment, attitude, and sacrifice are truly outstanding. I don’t know when they found time to eat, sleep, prepare all the logistical details, or find the time to relax with their families. They pushed us hard....but they pushed themselves even harder. True leaders to a man, they ran, crawled, sucked air, and got dirty, wet, and frozen right alongside all of us. I admire their dedication and passion for teaching us the skills to save lives and keep ourselves safe.