VALHALLA, N.Y -- More than 200 friends and family members celebrated the graduation of 25 new professional firefighters Friday. The new professional firefighters, who were welcomed during ceremonies at the Westchester County Department of Emergency Services in Valhalla, will work for paid fire departments in Eastchester, Fairview, Hartsdale, Mohegan Lake, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Rye and Scarsdale.
During a separate ceremony Friday evening, 69 volunteer firefighters from 31 local fire departments received certificates for completing 96 hours of Firefighter 1 training from the county.
County Executive Rob Astorino spoke at both ceremonies. Astorino praised the professional firefighters for completing 18 weeks of intensive work at the county fire training center, including studies in hazardous materials and weapons of mass destructive. He joked that the rookies also will have to be skilled in cooking chili and posing for firefighter calendars "and the list is constantly growing ... What has not changed are the core values, to put yourselves in harm's way. This class has received the finest training there is."
Astorino closed "with a prayer that God will watch over them and keep them safe," adding: "This is not a tennis match.You can hoot and holler all you want. This is a big day."
In the keynote speech, New Rochelle Fire Chief Robert Benz said, "When you meet a firefighter anywhere, the first thing they say is, 'How are you doing, brother?' We are all one big family. Your new, extended family has just grown."
"Your firehouse is your second home. You make friends for life there,'' Benz told the new graduates. "Welcome to the best career there is in the world."
Here are Friday's 25 graduates, by department:
Eastchester Fire Department: David Finelli, Robert Guido Jr., Paul Keindl and Robert Grogan, who is the son of Eastchester Fire Chief Michael Grogan
Eastview Fire Department in Greenburgh: Matthew Keane, Dominick Lombardo, Padraic "P.J." Murray and Michael Zima.
Hartsdale Fire Department: Timothy Collins, Christopher Gallo and Kerry Merkel, who served as class president
Mohegan Lake Fire Department in Yorktown: Tyler Chodkowski and Michael Dessner
Mount Vernon Fire Department: Aiyetoro Bess, Peter Clarke, Conroy Jackson, Joseph Melendez, Joshua Perry, Michael Senerchia, Dennis Solano and King Thomas III
New Rochelle Fire Department: Steven Fridovich
Rye Fire Department: Michael Stoddart
Scarsdale Fire Department: Rory Tully and John Nannariello