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Fire Department Graduates Eight Medical Technicians

New graduates urged to keep life and career in perspective

Alexandria Fire Department has increased its emergency response capability by eight. That was the number of Emergency Medical Technicians who received their graduation certificates and badges last Friday during ceremonies at George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

Composed of five women and three men, the 24th Emergency Medical Technician Recruit Class entered active duty just in time to face some of the worst flooding in the metropolitan area since Hurricane Isabel. They would now put to the ultimate test those 10 weeks of arduous training.

"You have chosen to participate in one of life's greatest callings -- helping other human beings at a time of their greatest needs," said James Vafier, M.D., operational medical director, Alexandria Fire Department. "Treat every patient as if they were a member of your own family."

But, he also had a warning for the graduates. "We have done an excellent job of training you how to take care of everyone else. But, we have done a miserable job of training you how to take care of yourselves," he said.

"The lessons on becoming a physician are easy. How to survive is somewhat more difficult. Being a paramedic is what you do for a living. It is not who you are. It does not define who you are," Vafier said. "You need to develop who you are."

To aid in that endeavor Vafier offered the following:

"Learn to say no to survive. You like everyone else must know your limits.

Do not become a nay sayer. They constantly see the glass as half empty.

Balance your life between the professional and private sides. Admitting you are human is not a shortcoming.

You need family. They offer the greatest support. Alexandria Fire Department is a family. The greatest friend you have is your family. Now you have extended your family," he told the graduates.

ALEXANDRIA FIRE CHIEF Gary Mesaris first thanked family members present for their support. Then he turned his attention to the class of recruits. "The first rule of this department is customer service," he said.

"What you've accomplished so far is just the beginning. Keep learning. Do a lot of listening but form your own opinions," Mesaris urged.

That admonition was echoed by Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann. "You have an awesome duty and responsibility. Never let your training waive," he said.

Hartmann laid out five rules for the graduates: 1. Always show compassion; 2. Maintain a passion for your career; 3. Treat everyone with respect; 4. Lead when there is a void; and 5. Always expect the unexpected.

Speaking for the class was Michael Gerber who was named class valedictorian. In his presentation he described each of the recruits and recalled various moments during their training period.

As a class gift the members of the 24th Recruit class raised money to purchase a variety of items for children at Carpenter's Shelter going to summer camp. In making the gift, the class noted, "Carpenter's Shelter is Northern Virginia's largest charitable organization serving the homeless."

After the various remarks, the following individuals became official Emergency Medical Technicians with the Alexandria Fire Department: Brianne Barbour, Washington, DC; David Coullahan, Ashburn; Michael Gerber, Bethesda, Md; Jennifer Ivey, Manassas; Nancy McFadden, Alexandria; Quinnette Napper, Upper Marlboro, Md; Victoria Smeltzer, Lusby, Md; and Joshua Weissman, Arlington.

Serving as master of ceremonies was Battalion Chief and Training Coordinator Chet Helms. He was joined by Brian Hricik, EMS Training Coordinator and Assistant Fire Chief, EMS, Vince Whitmore, who presented the graduate with their badges and awards in a variety of categories.

The program commenced with the presentation of the colors by the department Honor Guard followed by Fire Department Chaplain William Coates offering the invocation. Callie Terrell, recently retired assistant to the Fire Chief, sang the National Anthem.

Following receipt of their graduation certificates and badges, the new EMS personnel and their families were treated to a reception.