Alexandria Fire Department gained 11 new members last Friday with the graduation of the 35th Firefighter Recruit Class.
Prior to officially entering upon their new career, they were reminded by Interim Chief James T. Gower, that the class right before them got their baptismal of fire on September 11, 2001, at the Pentagon.
"This is a lot about family," Gower stressed to the friends and family members assembled at the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple to witness the commencement ceremony. "Each of you is a tremendous part of each firefighter's life."
That theme was carried forward by the event's guest speaker, Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland. He told the audience, "You should be very proud of these recruits. They are joining a profession that is far more serious than it has been in the past due to the events of 9/11."
He emphasized, "People who decide on public service are extremely dedicated. Everything they do is directed to make the lives of people better. Alexandria is a good family that these recruits are joining."
Sunderland noted that 99 percent of the audience and the new recruits resided outside the city. He pointed out that Alexandria has changed from a suburb to an urban environment. This has changed firefighting, according to Sunderland. "Today, there are far more calls for high rise and commercial fires than residences," he said.
Turning his attention to the recruits, Sunderland exclaimed, "Each of you has inside yourself something very special. And, sometime in your career you will be called upon to be a leader. Everyone is qualified to lead others. It just depends on the circumstances."
He further emphasized, "We (in public service) are only able to do what we do because the community has authorized us to do it. We have a special relationship with the community. None of us can ever do anything to destroy that trust."
Battalion Chief Thomas Harrell, training officer, noted that although this class had just completed 21 weeks of intensive instruction, which began September 30, 2002, "their learning will be ongoing." He pointed out that the department averages 17,000 calls per year. And, "The Alexandria Fire Department provides more services than any other single agency in the area."
FOLLOWING EACH recruit's induction to the department, new firefighter, Jamell Anajjar, speaking for his fellow recruits, told those assembled, "The original group of recruits was much larger. And each who finished the training has changed. But, this afternoon the Alexandria Fire Department has gained 11 new dedicated members."
He was followed by recruit James P. Taylor, who epitomized his declaration, "This whole recruit class is based on it's good sense of humor. When ever an adverse situation arose we would use our sense of humor to get us through."
Turning more serious, he acknowledged, "This job will always go on with or without us. But, we know that you can't do this job by yourself. It has to be a team effort and we have grown extremely close during our training."
Taylor then went down the line of recruits, David A. Denardo, Gary R. Harrell, Jr., Jack A. Hoffman, Timothy P. Kunkle, James M. Perry, Steven L. Richmond, Eric R. Vafier, Anthony Ways-Kelly, William G. Wills, and Anajjar, giving a humorous reflection and his personal description of each.
THOSE WHO received special recognition were Hoffman as class valedictorian; Richmond received the physical fitness award; and Harrell was honored as the recruit who made all those around him better.
At the ceremony's conclusion, recruit Harrell presented the class plaque to Battalion Chief Harrell. It will hang in the Academy with those of previous classes.
Serving as master of ceremonies for the event was assistant training officer, Lieutenant David Bogozi, with firefighter/minister, Randolph Scott giving the benediction. Callie Terrell sang a capella rendition of the National Anthem following a presentation of the colors by the department's Color Guard.