By JULIAN CANTRES
The Fire Department of New York celebrated the graduation of its newest group of members in a Brooklyn church on Tuesday with a class that included four women, the highest number in history.
Some 280 newly sworn-in firefighters (“probies”) received their diplomas at a ceremony in the Christian Community Center in the Flatlands section. They were recognized for finishing the 18-week training course, becoming the second graduating class of the year.
The group includes 51 military veterans and several descendants of firefighters, including at least one fifth-generation firefighter. It also represents the most diverse group ever, with 15 percent black and 20 percent as Hispanic.
Mayor Bill de Blasio congratulated the graduates for surviving the “18 brutal weeks” of training and said, “When you graduate from the rock, you know you’re something special.”
According to the Fire Department’s website, the training program consists of intense physical and mental training. It includes 3-mile runs, an obstacle course, and information on topics such as fire investigation and the hazmat suits worn by firefighters.
Several firefighters were given special mention, including Brandon Reilly and Joseph Seelig, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the class, respectively.
Chief James Leonard said that its members are “the pinnacle of public service”. He also talked about Kevin Vern, a graduate who had been wounded by an explosive while serving as a Marine in the Middle East. His friends and coworkers raised $3,000 to build a new home for him.
Another graduate mentioned was Josephine Smith, one of only four women in the graduating class. Her father, also a firefighter, died from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. De Blasio noted that she keeps a picture of her father next to a light switch, along with the message “Make him proud.”
After the ceremony, Smith said that she was sad that her father couldn’t be present, but thanked her family for supporting her. She said that while her relatively small stature made her stand out, she was able to graduate because she “put her mind to it”.