Burlington County celebrates first fire academy graduation since start of COVID-19 pandemic


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The Burlington County Commissioners and Department of Public Safety formally welcomed dozens of new firefighters and fire officers into the ranks of the county’s emergency services on July 28 during the county’s first fire academy graduation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Burlington County Emergency Services Training Center graduated a total of 59 new firefighters from three classes of cadets and 23 fire officers from two classes. All 82 graduates completed months of instruction, training and drills.

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Burlington County Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell represented the board at the ceremony and congratulated the graduates for their willingness to step forward and serve their communities.

“This graduation ceremony is always a special occasion and never more so than this year with the pandemic and the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” said O’Connell, who is the board’s liaison to the Department of Public Safety.

“While Sept. 11 will long be remembered as one of our darkest days, full of confusion, fear and loss, it will also be remembered as a day of incredible bravery and heroism by the acts of seemingly ordinary individuals,” O’Connell said during his remarks. “It is that same type of dedication that’s been demonstrated here in Burlington County, in New Jersey and across our country as we saw firefighters and first responders rush to fires, accidents and countless emergencies amid the uncertainty and health risks of the COVID pandemic. We know the men and women graduating tonight are willing to make the same sacrifices and take the same risks in service to their communities. On behalf of a grateful Burlington County, we salute you and thank you for your service.”

The 17 graduates from Firefighter Class 95 started their training on Jan. 5, 2020, and had their classes moved online in April due to the pandemic. The class of cadets was able to return to the training center in July and complete their instruction and training under new COVID-19 protocols created by the Burlington County Health Department and Department of Public Safety leadership.

During the ensuing months, not a single case of COVID-19 was reported among any of the cadets training at the center.

In addition to O’Connell, the ceremony featured an address by Robert Tharp, Delaware River and Shore Region state fire coordinator and retired deputy fire chief of the Trenton Fire Department.

“Today when you go out to your fire stations, your legacy starts. The legacy of you as a firefighter in Burlington County starts today,” Tharp told the graduates. “How you present yourself, your work ethic, how you operate on a fire ground, all that starts today.”

During the ceremony, the staff and leadership of the training center paid tribute to several retiring instructors, as well as the late Moorestown Fire Chief David Constantine, who was a longtime fire instructor at the academy. He was the primary instructor for the graduating Firefighter Class 96 until his passing this spring.

A leadership award was created in Constantine’s honor and was presented to graduating Firefighter Thomas M. Jones Jr. of the Jacobstown Fire Company in North Hanover.

Other award recipients were graduating Firefighter Aiden Friddell, of the Willingboro Fire Department, for most improved student, and graduating Firefighters Scott Johndro, of Medford Fire Department; Steve Holmak, of Bordentown Fire District No. 1; and Timothy Hartmann, of the Chesterfield Fire Department, for academic achievement.

  • This information was provided by the Burlington County Board of Commissioners. 

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