Durham Tech Fire Academy grads join the brotherhood

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 07:08 PM

For 22 weeks, 16 cadets at the Durham Technical Community College Fire Academy have tamed gas tank fires and loaded patients into a medevac helicopter. They’ve cut through smashed cars and walked around in banana-yellow hazardous material suits.

These “Smoke Eaters” received their certificates Friday on Durham Tech’s campus, graduating from cadets to full-fledged firefighters.

The Morrisville Fire Department Pipe and Drum Corps played the bagpipes, their shrill pitches resembling that of a fire engine siren.

“I am a cadet,” the students recited in unison. “I will not falter in my training. There will be pain, but I will rise above it.”

Since the academy began Jan. 22, these cadets went through mental and physical exhaustion to pursue a dream, said Clinton Briggs, the Fire Service Extension program director and a volunteer firefighter with the Milton Fire Department in Caswell County.

Durham Tech holds two academies a year, he said. The course has increased its offerings, from basic firefighter training to an academy that now includes technical rescue and EMT skills. He said they are maxed out with students, and their next academy begins Aug. 19.

Durham Tech President Bill Ingram said the academy cadets have put “service above self.”

“There is no higher calling than the calling they have chosen to do,” Ingram said.

State Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham gave the keynote address. He told the cadets in the crowd that they have reached their “Man of Steel” moment.

“You’re no longer Clark Kent,” Woodard said, adding that they’ve attained their Superman skills by achieving graduation. “… This afternoon we celebrate a new batch of heroes added to the ranks.”

They’ll miss meals, holidays and family events, Briggs said. It’s the path they’ve chosen. And they should never settle with their firefighter education.

“Never stop learning, never stop training,” Briggs said. “It’s the backbone of what you do. You are now members of a brotherhood that’s rich in traditions of honor and loyalty.”

Ian Arthur, one of the academy’s graduates, is originally from England but found his way to Durham when his wife became a teacher at Southern High School. At 40, he is the oldest cadet in the class.

“They talk about the brotherhood. It’s true,” Arthur said. “They’ve never once made me feel like I’m the oldest.

“We’ve got to fill big boots,” he added. “There are hundreds of thousands before us, and we don’t want to let them down.”

Miguel Benitez hugged classmates and said his farewells as people filtered out of the auditorium. He joined the academy four days before it began, a spur-of-the-moment life choice that his family supported. He said he’ll miss his fellow firefighters at the academy, and he plans to apply to both the Durham and Raleigh fire departments.

“It’s more than a family,” Benitez said. “It’s more than a brotherhood for us.”