By Aila Boyd

Last Wednesday, 18 individuals graduated from the Botetourt County Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services’ (EMS) Fire Academy. A graduation ceremony was held at Read Mountain Middle School.

The academy lasted roughly six months.

Chief of Botetourt County’s Department of Fire and EMS Jason Ferguson provided the opening remarks. “The first week of January we were sitting in a classroom talking about what the academy was going to be about,” he said. “Time flies. You had fun. You put in hard work, sweat, and dedication. You’ve made it. You are the many that will join us in the ranks tonight.”

He noted that the academy and graduation ceremony is a rite of passage for everyone who enters the fire service in Botetourt County. In addition to their hard work, Ferguson highlighted the role that the graduates’ family members played in their success by stating that they made numerous sacrifices throughout the past six months.

In order to place into context the role that fire services plays in communities, Ferguson noted that the very first public one was founded in 1736 by Benjamin Franklin. That first “bucket brigade,” which was located in Philadelphia, Pa. was considered to be the first volunteer fire service because it was the first group of citizens that joined together for the protection of the community as a whole.

Ferguson, who was named chief back in December of last year, said that out of the nearly 19 years that he has spent with the department, the past six months have been the most meaningful of his career because the entire fire and EMS service is starting to come together and function as a cohesive unit.

He went on to provide some words of wisdom that he has collected over the course of his career to the graduates.

“We’re here to save lives and protect property,” he said.

Since the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, he said, the fire and EMS services have had to become “all hazard organizations,” which means that they respond to “any and everything.” He noted that the work that the graduates will be required to do as they embark on their careers will be far and beyond the traditional “cat in a tree” scenario. A significant portion of the work of fire and EMS personnel, he said, has taken on a social work component.

“We have to keep in mind that the customer has called us because they don’t know who else to turn to,” he said.

Botetourt County Board of Supervisors Chairman Billy Martin highlighted the important work that the department does by recounting when he fell off a ladder in 2004 and required medical assistance.

He said that because of the fall he had limited mobility and was bleeding. “I was hurt bad and it was a seven-month journey to get through that,” he said.

Martin said that when he was on the floor waiting for assistance to arrive, he was relieved to hear the sirens from the ambulance as it pulled into his driveway. “That’s how people are going to feel when they see you show up,” he said.

He ended his remarks by congratulating the graduates and wishing them luck.

Jonathan Simmons, the lead instructor for the academy, said that he considers each and every one of the graduates to be special because they came to the academy from different walks of life and with different experience levels.

“The things that the graduates learned were for the betterment of themselves and the community,” he said.

He ended by urging the graduates to go forth and be change agents.

David Kozlowski, the class president for the 2019 fire academy, said that he enjoyed the academy and learned a lot over the course of it.

Several awards were given out during the ceremony, including: Most Improved Recruit Award, David Kozlowski; Most Outstanding Recruit Award, Ethan Hoover; 2019 Fire Academy Instructor Award, Jonathan Simmons; and the 2019 Instructor Emeritus Award, Louis Saville.

The graduates were Kimberly Allen, Charles Altice, Aaron Bridges, Adam Bridges, Caleb Bryant, Ethan Bryant, Michael Harlan, Ethan Hoover, Charles Johns, David Kozlowski, Blaine Lasek, Zachary Lathrop, Michael Minnix, Ethan Porch, Kyle Setliff, Brian Sites, Aaron Whitney, and Hunter Wilson.

The Botetourt County Department of Fire and EMS Honor Guard performed the posting of colors at the beginning of the ceremony. Pastor David Cox provided the invocation.

The department’s mission statement states that it “will provide prompt and professional services to our community in order to protect citizens, property and the environment.”