The 28 men and women who graduated at Friday night passed their final exams while carrying 60 pounds of gear on their backs.
On Friday night, they celebrated with a ceremony that was typical in many ways, but the graduates were part of a select group that hadn't just finished training: they were starting a new way of life. They are the newest members of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
"Tonight we celebrate the occasion, but the road here wasn't always easy, nor always as smooth," said Jordan Legan, the valedictorian. "Two weeks before we started, one of our classmates lost his mom. I have classmates that stand here with me tonight that put in 10 hours a day of recruit school, and then go work a second job to support their family."
Many of the men and women who graduated Friday were second- or third-generation firefighters. Their fathers, grandfathers and others were there on Friday night, proudly handing them their new helmets.
Fire Chief Ronald Mastin reminded the new firefighters that their duties went far beyond working hours. He told them that they had a responsibility to always uphold a high standard of character.
"Make the right decisions. Do the right thing," said Mastin. "That sounds easy, but it's not that easy to do. We all know that."
He reminded the graduates that both the department and the public had high expectations for their behavior, even while off-duty.
"We are always being watched... so be mindful of that," Mastin said.
Glenn Gaines, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Deputy United States Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration, addressed the recruits about what it meant to be a firefighter.
"Their primary objective is to save human life," said Gaines, who started his career as a volunteer member of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. "They perform magnificently in extreme environments, such as heat, ice storms, 45 stories up, in caves...and the list goes on. These public servants perform unheard-of physical feats to fulfill their commitment to their fellow mortals. There's nothing like them."