Black hats, crisp coats, shiny buttons and wide smiles filed into the Lower Macungie Community Center on Wednesday as 35 volunteer firefighters from around the Lehigh Valley, including Keith Brooks from Hecktown Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, participated in a graduation ceremony held in their honor.
The six-month class was a combined effort between Bucks County Community College and the Lower Macungie Fire Department. The students invested approximately 190 hours of training time, which earned them the Firefighter I National Certification.
The class took place at the Allentown Fire Academy's Mack South Training Center.
According to Matthew Hatrak, assistant director for certification and curriculum at Bucks County Community College, this was the first time a Bucks County Fire Academy class was held in Lehigh County.
“It’s a unique program because when the students first start off, they come in at a basic level. They start with first-aid and CPR classes, and do an introduction to HAZMAT awareness, which gets their feet wet and gets them excited to be here,” Hatrak said during a speech to the firefighters and their families.
The certification each student now holds is recognized nationally, and the graduating students’ names will be placed on a registry that is facilitated through an organization based in Quincy, Mass.
Hatrak explained that no matter which state the graduating firefighters move to -- with the exception of a few -- their training and certification will appear in the registry, which proves the firefighter took the tests, performed the skills and proved to the evaluators and to themselves that they could perform their fire duties.
Justin DeLong, deputy chief of the Emmaus Fire Department and lead instructor for the Bucks County Fire Academy, awarded a special honor -- the 2011 Firefighter I Bucks County Fire Academy Most Outstanding Award -- to Clint Ballek, a volunteer firefighter for Eastern Salisbury. DeLong said it was difficult to choose just one student since all of them were “outstanding.”
“The individual who is receiving this award went out of the way to help others even if they needed help themselves," DeLong added. "They never complained. This individual just bit their tongue, ground their teeth, got down and dirty and would always ask if there was any more they could do.”
All of the ceremony's speakers made sure to give special thanks to the families who supported their firefighters through this journey.
There were graduates from the following fire departments: