VALHALLA, N.Y. For some, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream; for others, a chance to help people. And for all 11 young men who graduated Friday from the New York State Career Firefighters Academy at Westchester County, the ceremony marked the beginning of a career focused on saving lives.
The new probationary firefighters and their assigned fire departments are: John N. Lombardo Jr., Andrew Roberto and Douglas Palmesi, Hartsdale; Bryan Jones, Brian Olson and Alexander Sharpe, Long Beach; Francesco Bellantoni, Pelham; Brett Lyons, Port Chester; Francis Sheehan, Scarsdale; and Darren Ciraco and Brian Noonan, White Plains.
"I always wanted to do it while I was growing up as a little kid," Sheehan, of Hartsdale, said after the ceremony. "I was in a small fire as a kid, so I guess that might have made me want to do it."
Bellantoni, of Pelham, was another for whom becoming a firefighter was a lifelong dream. "I always wanted to do it, since I was a little kid," he said. "I just like helping people. I always have. And what better way is there to do it?"
For Lombardo, whose cousin, Marine infantry Nick Santomero of Brewster attended the ceremony in full dress blues, becoming a professional firefighter was the logical next step. "I've been a volunteer for eight years," he said. "I like helping people, I like the work. I figured it was time to do something about it."
Speaker after speaker talked about the dangers and sacrifices firefighters face, and exhorted the graduates to always adhere to the principals they learned at the academy.
"If we only had a crystal ball to know where we're going, it would all be easy, but we don't," said the keynote speaker, retired Lt. David Walsh of the Arlington Fire Department, an academy instructor. "The world is changing, the challenges are changing, the expectations and demands of the public for their public services are changing. You have to step up to the plate."
Walsh exhorted the new probationary firefighters to start planning for their retirement today, and to always conduct themselves in a professional manner.
"Going to leave you with a couple rules that you really should have learned back in kindergarten, but they apply to everybody," he said. "Use your ears, not your mouth. Be nice. Say please. Say thank you. Don't hit people. Be nice to everybody, in the firehouse, at home, to the customer when you're out on a call. Be kind, be gentle, be responsible, be obedient."
Awards were presented to some of the graduates, with Roberto earning recognition for academic achievement and esprit de corps, and Noonan being cited for physical agility. And Olson, the class president, drew laughter from his fellow grads when he reminded them to "have the courage to be safe."
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