By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on December 2, 2023.
The Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services welcomed 14 new members Friday morning during a graduation ceremony at the main branch of the Lethbridge Public Library.
Two recruiting classes were combined during the Friday ceremony, one with nine members from the fall recruitment class and five additional members in the other, which also meant having two Kilkenny award recipients in one ceremony – Joland Schmidt and Kevin Bergeron.
When speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Schmidt said he was not only happy and excited to receive his credentials, he was also relieved as there was a lot of anticipation leading up to the ceremony but also with waiting to be done with the training and be deployable.
“Lethbridge has a pretty incredible culture as far as the fire department goes, and we look forward to learning from everyone as we continue on, not just the training that we’ve had so far, but we get to continue to learn throughout our careers and so we have the basis now and we’re excited to take that and continue,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt said he was honoured to be chosen by his peers to receive the Kilkenny award.
Â “Our peers thought we were demonstrating good professionalism and leadership. I’m lucky enough to have a little bit of prior experience in fire coming to this training, so it was a good experience for me to be able to apply that and show my course mates some of the tricks of the trade and they responded to it well,” said Schmidt.
He said everyone got along well in his class and it could have been anyone because everyone stepped up, but they selected him to receive the award and it meant a lot.
“Kilkenny was a Winnipeg firefighter prior to coming into Lethbridge, which is interesting because that’s where I came from as well. I did a stint there, so it’s kind of a neat little fitting almost,” said Schmidt.
He said he is looking forward to his first shift as a graduate and will start as soon as Monday with his platoon, but not as soon as Bergeron, the other award recipient, who was already on duty during the graduation ceremony with just enough time off to get through it, spend a few moments with family and friends before heading back to duty.
“I’m on shift today, I started at 9 a.m. and I end at 9 p.m. It’s been a dream of mine for so long to sit in the ambulance and it feels good to finally be able to wear this uniform,” said Bergeron.
He said it feels like a long time coming after putting in so much work and it was humbling to be sitting next to his fellow graduates during the ceremony.
“As Joland said, in my class as well it could have been anyone to receive the Kilkenny award, but they chose me and it was very humbling to be chosen by my peers,” said Bergeron.
He said his class had nine members while Schmidt’s class had five, and even though he and his classmates took the course in the regular 12 weeks, Schmidt’s class was an accelerated version and they worked really hard for five weeks to be able to graduate with his class on the same day.
Captain of the recruit academy, Jim Anderson told reporters that having 14 new grads was big for the department as they were in a staffing crunch with a large demand for firefighters.
“We’re a growing department and we need the numbers,” said Anderson.
Â In terms of the training process, Anderson said it is pretty exhausting, and even though it sounds like is a short period of time, they pack a lot into the 12 weeks of training.
Â “We have to go through all their preparatory stuff so that they can be ready for what we call tower runs which is the live fire events where they actually put into play their techniques that they learn, the strategies that they’ve developed, the tactics that they have to figure out in the moment to be able to overcome all the different challenges they face firefighting,” said Anderson.
Â When asked about the fact that some graduates were already on duty, Anderson said that is the reality of emergency response.
Â “We are 24 hours, so we have active-duty members who are currently on duty at the ceremony and are responding to calls if need be. We gave them a little bit of time off to enjoy this moment with their family, but they will be reporting back to duty as soon as they’re done here,” said Anderson.
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