Chapel Hill firefighter graduates from Academy
By Karen Hall
A Chapel Hill volunteer was the oldest man in a class of 12 recruit firefighters who graduated from the Tennessee Fire and Codes Enforcement Academy last Friday.
Chad Dennis, 39, said the 10-week class was "a very physical thing. It was tough.
"I was going through it with younger guys that were strong," Dennis continued. "They were wonderful.
"It's kind of rare for a volunteer to come through this," he said. "I'm honored."
Dennis praised Chapel Hill's Fire Chief, Matt Stout, who encourages his firefighters to train.
"We have the greatest chief," Dennis said.
When asked why he wanted to be a firefighter, Dennis said, "I don't know how I got into it. It's something you're just called to."
The other 11 men in the class came from all over the state, and at the graduation ceremony in the Academy dining hall, the room was packed with proud family members of all ages, as well as fire chiefs from the graduates' home departments.
The ceremony began with a video of class members during the training. It showed them practicing putting out a variety of fires, climbing ladders, crawling through structures, performing CPR, breaking into a wrecked vehicle to extract the victim trapped inside, and managing hazardous fuel spills.
Inspirational speakers followed, including Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance Gary West.
"You will remember the day you graduated from the Academy," he told recruits. "This is a day to remember, but this is only a stepping stone. Be safe."
West then introduced State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak, whose father was a firefighter in Kentucky, calling her "a great friend of the fire service."
"I commend the 12 graduates on their accomplishments. Job well done. Thank you for answering the call to serve," said McPeak at the end of a short speech.
Dennis was chosen by his classmates to make one of the speeches.
"I love each and very one of you," he said. "You made me a better man and a better firefighter. You are all my brothers," he said simply.
All of the recruits were tasked with researching one of the Line of Duty Deaths commemorated on the firefighters' memorial. Chase Bochette of Hendersonville was selected to give the presentation.
"This is one of the proudest moments of my life," said Bochette. He went on to say he stood at the memorial, trying to think what to do, when he felt the presence of the fallen firefighters, begging him to give them a voice.
So Bochette spoke as if he were the firefighter statue, while a PowerPoint of his words played behind him, including a list of the firefighters who have died in Tennessee, all 216 of them, including Buford Delwin Lee of the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department who died in 2010 while delivering water.
The men who started as recruits earned the right to be called firefighters after their 10 weeks at the academy, and solemnly received certificates and Challenge Coins. Then the ceremony turned to handshakes, hugs, kisses, and photo opportunities. Tears of emotion for the fallen firefighters were replaced by tears of pride and joy for the new graduates.