The wind had two firefighters in extended arched buckets struggling to calm the large American flag that served as the gateway to last Friday afternoon’s fourteenth academy graduation ceremony at the Roanoke Civic Center.
Each of the twenty graduates received a small but sturdy length of rope that Training Officer Tim Craighead called “a link to the family, a link to your classmates and a link to me.” Four graduates from the academy were from Roanoke County and sixteen are destined for Roanoke City fire stations. The graduates spent 896 hours training at the academy; they received a myriad of certifications.
The recurring theme throughout the ceremony was highlighted by Lt. Tom Gherman, who said “teamwork is essential for our safety.” Charles Layman was selected by the team as their class president. “The class president serves as a liaison between the academy staff and the class,” said Gherman.
Chief Hoback told the assembled graduates that their lives have changed forever after completing the sixteen-week academy. “This job is not like any other job. You’ve now crossed into the profession of public service and public safety.” Some were starting work the following day.
Roanoke County Chief Richard Burch told the class, “when someone calls 911 they are not having a good day.” He told them they were performing a customer service role—except the customer has no other options. “They pick you when they call 911.” He added, “For that reason [they] always have to give 100 percent on the job.”
Roanoke City Chief David Hoback said in a brief interview following the ceremony that none of the new graduates knew where they would be assigned until Friday’s ceremony. He said, “only four people knew where they would be stationed – it was a secret until today.”
Roanoke City has been short staffed for some time. Hoback praised city manager Chris Morrill for allowing him to recruit over and above the usual number of recruits. “It takes a year for a recruit to get up to speed,” said Hoback. Council had noted in financial reports that overtime took the fire department over budget.
According to Hoback, the new graduates will not only plug the vacancies, but will put them in a position to forestall unforeseen injuries, health issues, retirements or resignations.
Awards went to Nicolas Schmitt for physical fitness and Nathan Joachim for academics. The daughters of deceased Captain Chris Brown presented the character award in memory of their father to Randolph Armbrister.
The leadership award went to Denise Teehan of Roanoke County, the only woman in the class. Teehan was a police officer in Chesapeake before moving to Roanoke. She said she had always wanted to serve in public safety and this was her way of pursuing her goal.
Other graduates in the city included Matthew Furrow, Peter Matthiessen, David McKinney, Matthew Moomey, Andrew Murray, Frederick Murray, Rashad Myers, Aaron Parker, Jacob Parry, James Richards, Shawn Sloane, Keith Snead, Thesalomius Washington and Andrew Watkins. The county included Kelly Stoots.