South Florida State College graduated its second class of Fire Science Program students at an evening ceremony on Dec. 12.

The graduates on the stage of the SFSC University Center Auditorium after receiving their diplomas.

The graduates on the stage of the SFSC University Center Auditorium after receiving their diplomas.

The graduates are now eligible to join the ranks of career firefighters working in county and municipal fire departments, with three already serving with county volunteer fire units.

Family members of the graduates, SFSC officials, and fire firefighters were on hand to watch the newly minted first responders mount the stage in the SFSC University Center Auditorium to receive their diplomas.

“You folks made the cut after 16 weeks of focused, intense training,” said Paul Shannon, SFSC Fire Science program coordinator, told the graduates. “You’ve proven yourself, and now you’re ready to be firefighters,” he said, wearing the dark blue uniform of his full-time job with Polk County Polk County Fire Rescue.

Receiving their diplomas were Efrain Herrera, Joshua Mink, Ralph Meeks, Barry Smith, Brandon Hutson, Noel Reynoso, Maria Albarran, Max Damour, Kody Littles, and John Herrera (pictured above from left to right).

The 10 students represented a range of backgrounds. Some were recent graduates of SFSC’s Emergency Medical Technician program, who aim to move directly into firefighting. Others, like Damour and Efrain Herrera, volunteer with Station 36 in Lake Placid. A third graduate, Reynoso, serves with the Sun ‘N Lake Station 41 volunteer unit.

Recently retired Polk County Fire Chief David Cash, one of the region’s most experienced fire officers, was on hand to address the graduates and share what he has learned in his 42 years as a firefighter, lieutenant, captain, deputy chief, and chief of a 700-member department.

“The training you received here at SFSC is light years ahead of what I got when I was in the academy in the ‘70s,” Cash said. “Still, you’re just getting started in your education as a firefighter and you’ve got a lot more to learn once you get hired on with a department.”

Cash encouraged the nine men and one woman seated before him to keep one piece of his advice in mind always: “Be nice to the people you serve.”

“One day, you may very well respond to someone lying in the gutter, maybe with no place to call home,” he said. “But you’ll be in the uniform of your department, representing your community, and that person is someone who deserves to be treated well–he or she is someone’s loved one.”

SFSC graduated its first class of 11 students from the Fire Science program in April. The program was a project 10 years in the making, taking final form after State Senator Denise Grimsley shepherded a $2.6 million grant through the 2014 Florida Legislature. The funding went toward refitting existing classroom space, erecting a water and fire towers, and acquiring training equipment, including two fire engines.

Shannon, the program coordinator, praised the work a cadre of assistant instructors–all seasoned firefirefighters– put into moving the class through the 16 weeks of training at the new facilities on SFSC’s Highlands Campus in Avon Park.

SFSC counts itself among 42 state-approved training centers across the state training firefighters, including 15 of Florida’s publicly-financed state colleges.

Entry into the SFSC Fire Science Program requires a candidate to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, undergo a background check, and pass a physical examination.

For more information about the SFSC Fire Science Program, contact the SFSC Advising and Counseling Center at 863-784-7131.