ELIZABETHTOWN — The future of firefighting in Bladen County is ablaze with promise, thanks to a multi-year effort to train young firefighters.
The Firefighter Academy, a two-year course of study at both East Bladen and West Bladen, held its inaugural graduation ceremony Thursday at the Bladen County Courthouse and saw 30 students earn the right to join the ranks of the brave souls who battle the blaze.
White Oak Fire Chief Tim Tatum, who led the class at East Bladen, and Chief Gary Estep, who came from Texas to teach firefighting at West Bladen, instructed students about basic firefighting and safety skills and gathered with cadets Thursday to celebrate the culmination of their studies.
At Thursday’s ceremony, Bladen County Schools Supt. Robert Taylor greeted the group and especially commended the ladies for “not allowing gender issues to prevent (them) from taking part in this program.”
The guest speaker for the evening was Eastern Regional Certification Specialist Mike Edwards, who told attendees that Bladen County, of the 42 counties he serves, was the first to hold such a ceremony. He spoke to the young people about attitude and challenged them to maintain the same passion throughout their careers as they felt that evening.
Four students received special recognition. Both schools presented a Firefighter of the Year Award and a Most Improved Firefighter Award. At East, John Dean Alsup was recognized as the Firefighter of the Year, and Robert Meggs received the Most Improved Award. At West, Sean Nunnery was given the Firefighter of the Year Award, and the Most Improved went to Roberto Aguilar.
David Barbour, whom Tatum called “one of the biggest cheerleaders we have,” in his closing remarks, stated the program was evidence of why North Carolina has been nationally recognized for its efforts in fire training. He challenged grads to “take the knowledge you’ve gained and change the world.”
“You’ve not been studying for a test,” he informed them, “but for the time you’re the only thing between that person and the grave.”
A prevailing topic throughout the night was the unity displayed between what are usually two rival schools.
“A rivalry exists,” Tatum informed guests, “and when we first started, everybody stood in their own camp, but, eventually, they started working together and entering the realm of the brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighting.”
Turning to graduates, he said, “I’m going to miss you with all my heart.”
Fire Accademy inaugural graduates included John Dean Alsup, Jason Register, Majesti Corbett, Autumn Lockamy, Robert Meggs, Zachary Johnson, Kysheem Lewis, Thomas Johnson III, and Kristen Todd from East Bladen. West Bladen’s academy graduated Roberto Aguilar Aguilar, Alfredo Aguilar, Justin Best, Branden Carson, Noah Dillard, Trevor Feight, Wilbur Gonzalez Guzman, William Hazel, Austin Hunsinger, Kayla Hunt, Bryan Locklear, Michael McLamb, Jodee Morphies, Sean Nunnery, Freddie Pait, Dayner Rodriguez Lopez, Brett Sasser, Joseph Simmons, Prestin Smith, Matthew Sturgill, and Adolfo Saurez Perez.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.