By CHELSEA KATZ
For 21 Kilgore College fire Academy graduates, Sept. 11 took on new meaning this year as they began their basic training to become a firefighter.
“We began this academy 12 weeks ago on a day no firefighter will ever forget, Sept. 11. I’m not sure that any of us really understood the significance of the day to the fire service until we got here. Before we decided to join this profession, we knew Americans lost lives that day, but for the fire service, we lost 343 brothers and sisters,” Fire Academy #102 President John Moore said. “We learned that no matter where in this world, if you’re a firefighter you’re our family.”
No matter how far away one of his classmates is geographically, he said, they will always be his brothers.
In total, 21 cadets graduated from the Kilgore College Fire Academy with some already working with a department.
“It is a calling. In my life, I didn’t know anything else,” guest speaker Gregg County Fire Marshal Mark Moore said. “I grew up in a fire station. When I was born, my grandfather was the first firefighter that the city of Gilmer ever had. He lived in the fire station, and in 1958 when we moved into the fire station back then, there was no thing as 24-hour shifts; he lived there. As a young kid, I lived with them until I was of school age. This is his helmet… There’s some big shoes under there.”
The day took on special meaning for both Mark and John Moore as the elder saw his oldest son receive his basic firefighting certificate.
“How do you describe that? That’s overwhelming I guess. It’s awesome. It’s an amazing experience, an amazing experience to become a part of something that my family’s been a part of for so long. It’s an emotional day,” John Moore said.
Fire Academy lead instructor Mike Fennell gave the audience and the graduates a warning to never stop learning.
“We’ve got to be smarter than ever before because the elements in the buildings have changed. Our enemy is changing,” he said.
Mark Moore echoed those sentiments, but added what they learn at the academy is only the start.
“You really start learning when you find a fire station and you get involved with an engine crew or with a department. That’s really where the learning begins,” he said. “You never ever quit learning at this job. The day you think you know everything, it’ll get you hurt. It’s an ever-evolving thing.”
Fennell’s favorite class to teach, he said, is the eight-hour courage to be safe class.
“There are no skills, but in that eight hour class, do you know what I teach them? I teach them how to go home,” Fennell told the audience Wednesday night. “I teach them how after every call that you run, they have a family waiting at home for them, and I want them to go home.”
The graduates’ family and friends have an assignment also, Fennell said, to always support their firefighter.
“They’re getting into a profession that’s very dangerous… Your job with them is starting,” he said. “They’re going to need your support.”
He continued to say they will have to miss holidays, birthday and work nights away from home.
“That’s part of being a firefighter… That’s part of the profession, but you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, noting the special days he has had to miss in his career. “I love what we do, and I love helping people. That’s what I told them day one; to be a fireman, you’ve got to have heart… When the rats and roaches are running out, they’re running in.”
The two most important things John Moore learned from his dad and from the academy, he said, are to keep his integrity and be proud of what he does as a firefighter.
“Just maintain the honor of the fire service. It means a lot to everyone who’s in the business,” he said, reluctant to call it a business.