Eleven local residents have chosen to serve Dawson County as unpaid first responders.
When the men entered the auditorium of Riverview Middle School early Saturday evening behind Dawson County firefighter/paramedic/bagpiper James Ruttman, they entered as civilians. They exited as graduates of Dawson County Emergency Services Volunteer Class 2015-16.
Dawson County Fire Chief Lanier Swafford addressed them and the large audience comprised of families, friends, and county officials.
"Six months ago you started a journey," Swafford said. "Today you're simply celebrating a milestone on that journey. This is a major accomplishment. You started your journey but are a long way from the end of where you need to go in your career. During your class you learned skills, camaraderie, personal limitations, and you've had experiences that will carry you a long way in life whether you remain in this profession as a volunteer or as a calling.
Swafford took the opportunity to relate firefighter training to an everyday situation.
"Part of being a firefighter is learning how to adapt and overcome," he said.
Training began in March and took up most evenings and weekends.
"Families, you've learned since March what sacrifice is," Swafford said. "They've been gone. There's been stuff left unattended because they came to class to learn. That's not going to change. There are special events they're gonna miss in your life. It may be a scheduled dinner date. It may be a birthday party. It may even be Christmas morning. If they stay in this, they're going to miss it. But that's OK because the reason they're missing it is because somebody needs them more than you."
Swafford reminded the graduates of the significance of choices they will make.
"Whether you're paid or volunteer your actions on and off the job reflect on us all and it reflects on the profession," he said. "We've all worked hard to build the department to where it is today.
The newest members of Dawson's Emergency Services department had taken a written test and a test of 13 practical skills earlier Saturday. At the ceremony, each graduate received a certificate in recognition of their accomplishments. Passing a written state test certifies them to be a basic entry-level firefighter in most departments in Georgia, according to Swafford.
As volunteers, the men will most likely work from the station that is closest to their home.
"This gives a shorter response time," Kristi Hudson, public information officer for emergency services said.
Like their paid colleagues, the volunteers will continue training.