Family members and local law enforcement leaders gathered Friday to celebrate the graduation of nine recruits from the Lafayette Fire Department training academy, a much-needed addition to the local firefighting force, the fire chief said.

The 102nd graduating class endured 17 weeks of schooling on emergency medical response procedures, tactics for handling hazardous materials and containing various fire scenarios, among other skills. Friday, they took an oath to serve the community and protect residents and property from danger.

The graduating firefighters are Corey M. Boudreaux, Colin J. Comeaux, Colin M. Guillory, Hunter P. Hernandez, James C. Parker, Eric C. Patout, Brett J. Price, Erik W. Viator and Jamol T. Wheatley.

Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning and state Rep. Terry Landry spoke at the graduation and praised the new firefighters for choosing public service. They encouraged the men’s families to support them in their journey as they face danger and tragedy.

Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit said the recruits will receive their crew assignments Monday after a weekend of rest. The class will likely be split evenly across three crews, he said. After receiving their assignments, the new firefighters will begin a 12-month test period during which they'll be routinely evaluated.

At the end of the test period, Benoit will review the evaluations and decide whether the firefighters will be confirmed for permanent positions.

Benoit said the graduating class will help relieve stress on existing crews and allow the department to lessen the number of fire trucks sent to scenes. Currently, the department must send more trucks to scenes than necessary because while the truck can handle the workload, there may not be enough men manning the vehicle to handle the scene.

The nine graduates reduce the department’s vacant positions to four, a release said.

“Having these nine men is going to make a big difference and is a positive move for us,” Benoit said.

Recruiting can be difficult when competing with private industry, but a pay increase in recent years and interested applicants has helped maintain reasonable staffing levels, the chief said. He commended the new firefighters for choosing a career that serves others.

Firefighter James Parker was nominated as the class’ spokesperson and delivered a comical and heartfelt speech that both roasted his fellow recruits and detailed why each would be an asset to Lafayette.

Two of the recruits, Colin Comeaux and Hunter Hernandez, come from firefighting families. Another recruit worked as a carpenter, another as an athletic trainer and another served as a volunteer firefighter for the Carencro Fire Department, Parker said.

Each recruit’s attributes and history provided perspective, wisdom and support that helped make each member of the class stronger, he said.

“We came from different backgrounds, but we all have one goal, and that goal is to be great. A lot of people think greatness is about how many people are serving you. True greatness, I believe, is not about how many people serve you, but how well and how much you serve others,” Parker said.

He compared the fire department to the tale of David and Goliath. The fire captains are David, the slingshot is the crew’s pumper truck and the firefighters are the stones used to incapacitate Goliath. The firefighters are the weapons the fire department uses to fight the giants of the community, he said.

Giants like cardiac arrest, house fires, car fires and other dangerous situations, Parker said.

“David had five stones, but today we graduate nine stones. We’re going to be there to put down the giants that are putting our people down,” he said.

Parker and his classmates closed with a saying the group developed to honor their class: “Nine for one and one for all. When you dial 911, we answer.”

James Parker Sr. wore a proud smile as his son spoke in front of the gathered audience. He said the younger Parker was previously a teacher at Philadelphia Christian Academy and helping others is part of his nature.

The elder Parker said he wasn’t surprised when his son chose to pursue a career in firefighting and is proud to watch him use his big heart for others.

“We’re so proud,” he said.


Follow Katie Gagliano on Twitter, @katie_gagliano.