The latest class of Toledo fire recruits became the newest Toledo firefighters Friday as they donned their caps to the cheers of family and friends in a packed Doermann Theatre at the University of Toledo.
Those new firefighters, 47 strong, sat on stage behind dignitaries and department brass.
The absence of one among them suffused the hourlong ceremony.
A chair placed downstage held a cap and a graduation certificate and remained empty. Silence answered Pvt. Jeffrey Koenigseker as he called the roll: “James Dickman,” once, twice, three times.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the ceremony
DOWNLOAD: 2013 Toledo Fire & Rescue Department class graduation program
Private Dickman, 31, and Pvt. Stephen Machcinski, 42, died in the line of duty while fighting a fire ruled arson on Jan. 26 at 528 Magnolia St., a two-story apartment building in North Toledo.
“It’s no secret that this is a bit different graduation than we as people who have been on the fire department are used to,” Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago told the graduates. “There’s some mixed emotions today, there’s no hiding it.”
Chief Santiago reminded graduates of an earlier conversation he had with them, “that there’s going to be a little bit of an inner conflict in your hearts and your minds, and that’s OK. That’s OK.
“I will tell you there’s going to be some pressure on you. The past couple weeks, it’s been very evident to me,” Chief Santiago said. “You are about to join an elite group of men and women of the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department.”
Chief Santiago said the graduates would be expected to rise to that level.
“Another thing that might add a little pressure to you, if you haven’t noticed in the past couple of weeks, the public absolutely adores the fire department,” Chief Santiago said. “They love you. They support you. They are there when you need them the most. They are absolutely worthy of nothing but a hundred percent effort every day. So that’s what’s expected.”
He spoke of Private Dickman’s pride in his profession and challenged the graduates, as a tribute to him, to continue gaining knowledge and proficiency.
“It should be a point of emphasis every day to learn something about your career, your vocation, the job you’ve chosen to do for the rest of your working life,” Chief Santiago said.
The Dickman and Machcinski families were greeted from the stage by Assistant fire Chief Phillip Cervantes, and Chief Cervantes presented Private Dickman’s certificate and cap to his family.
Mayor D. Michael Collins greeted the graduates with, “Job well done,” and thanked family members for their support through training.
He commended the graduates for remaining focused after their classmate’s death and noted the seven-year anniversary Friday of the death of Toledo police Detective Keith Dressel, also in the line of duty.
“I give you all the credit in the world,” Mr. Collins said to the graduates.
Todd Freeland, chosen by his classmates to receive the Robert J. Schwanzl Award — named for a retired Toledo fire assistant chief — recalled that recruits are told in training that when citizens call, “it’s going to be on their worst day.”
“January 26 was my worst day and probably the worst day for a lot of the people behind me,” Private Freeland said. “The citizens, they were here for us and they loved us and they fed us and gave us support. It was amazing. I can’t express my gratitude enough.”
Private Dickman and Pvt. Amanda Lyons were recipients of the John H. Brancheau Memorial Recruit Achievement Award, named for a late firefighter and union president known for his support of recruits.
As the graduates were dismissed, they remained at their places and recited in unison the motto that Private Dickman wrote for the Class of 2013:
“We fight with courage, we stand with pride, we honor those who gave their lives.”
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.