New firefighters graduate, begin careers as citizen fire responders

Fifteen new trained volunteers were welcomed to the Blount County Fire Department Tuesday night.

Through the months of December and January, 15 men trained for 60 hours to become part-time firefighters with the Blount County Fire Protection District. As part of the ceremony, badges and certificates were passed out. Chief Doug McClanahan said he was very proud of the commitment and dedication each person put into the program.

“The 60 hours of training will be with you forever,” McClanahan said. But he said this small training is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“You will continue to train for hundreds of hours. (The training) will continue as long as you live,” he said. “You will always be a rescuer.”

McClanahan said no matter the obstacles in front of the graduates, they will always be heroes. “By doing this, you will never know how many lives you will save. Or how many differences you will make by something you say or do,” he said.

By then McClanahan tossed out his notes and began to speak frankly.

“All of you here gave dedication to God, family, the department and the community. We’ve seen this in the short amount of time we have known you.”

Inspiring them with the words from his former chief, McClanahan said the graduates will have to eventually make a rescue. “Do the best you can. If you do -wonderful. If you don’t - give it all you can. Then move on,” he said. “No matter how bad it is, how bad it looks (or) how bad it smells. You will be there to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Not only are the officers proud of the graduates, but so are the graduates’ families. McClanahan said he knows the graduates’ families are behind them no matter their sacrifice. “You will be sharing them with the community and the (fire) department,” McClanahan said. They will miss the family functions or have to leave sporting events, he said. “We appreciate that, and we apologize for that.”

No one knows that more than one of the youngest graduates - Cody Burkett.

Just 20 years-old, Burkett has a 1 year-old son and a fiancé. Burkett decided to become a firefighter through talks with his brother-in-law who is also a firefighter. He said he has always wanted to help people and plans to become a full-time firefighter when he turns 21. Twenty-one is the minimal age to be a full-time firefighter, Burkett said.

“My family is 100 percent behind me,” he said. “It has made (the training) a lot easier.”

Burkett’s fiancé Allie Glover said when he decided to become a firefighter it was surprising. “We are very proud and glad he got through it,” she said. But she says that his career path makes her nervous but she does not let it get to her.

Burkett met his fiancé in middle school and they hope to get married in the summer.

The other graduates are Nicholas Bryant, Jesse Denton, Kermit Easterling, Alan Havner, Chester Hembree, Blaine Howell, Dan Livermore, Mike McClurg, Ryan Palonis, Rod Parton, Steven Roberts, Michael Shane Rogers, Richard Secondi and Ken Shelton.

The ceremony ended with a tribute to the fallen heroes of the armed services, law enforcement, emergency medical services and the firefighters.

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