Firefighters’ Commitment Expresses a Love for Society

Associate Editor

READY FOR DUTY: Tulsa Fire Chief C.A. LaCriox pins the firefighter’s badge on Mark Avila as wife Jessica and Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor look on. This Tulsa Fire Academy graduating class combined cadets from Tulsa and Broken Arrow.

Courtesy Gary Patton

Following tradition, after receiving their new badges graduates from Tulsa Fire Academy signified they’re ready for duty by ringing the bright silver bell on the stage of Exhibit Hall A in the Tulsa Civic Center. This graduating class, one of two annually, rang the bell 28 times to the applause of an enthusiastic audience of family and friends. For the 19 Tulsa and nine Broken Arrow firefighters, it was the culmination of a grueling 22-week course designed to prepare cadets for the ever-increasing demands made on modern urban fire departments.

Over the past few decades, and in particular after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the demands on fire departments across the country and in turn the need for increased training of firefighters has grown considerably. Today’s firefighters are called upon to provide more public safety services from hazardous materials clean up to medical service response, not to mention the requirements imposed on fire departments nationwide by a myriad of homeland security initiatives. But in keeping with its tradition of exemplary community service, the Tulsa Fire Department’s Fire Training Academy has kept pace with the increased demand.

It all begins with the tedious task of screening down the more than 2,000 annual applicants to find the precious few possessing the fire department’s “right stuff.” The number of accepted candidates is determined by the number of slots required to fill out the department primarily due to retirement. Consequently even the very qualified often don’t make the cut and as is often the case, wait until next time. Those who make it through the process are still required to prove themselves capable of developing an array of necessary skills through a rigorous physically and mentally demanding hands-on training program before they don the coveted firefighters badge.

An exemplary fire department has been a long-standing tradition for Tulsa starting back in 1905, two years before statehood, when city leaders created the first professional fire department in the state. They kept pace with changing times by being one of the first fire departments to motorize their fleet of horse-drawn fire wagons in 1913. Down through the years apprentice firefighters trained under the watchful eye of veterans to make it into the ranks as a full-fledged firefighter. In 1958 the academy was founded to formalize and structure training and to provide high caliber graduates. Their success in this effort has helped enable the Tulsa Fire Department to maintain its premier status as the only fire department in Oklahoma accredited by the Commission of Fire Accreditation International, a highly regarded program of self-regulation and assessment monitored by disinterested, qualified parties to maintain the highest standards for public service.

Combining the Tulsa graduating class of firefighters with Broken Arrow grads is a hint of things to come. One of the fire departments strategic goals was realized recently. A bond initiative was passed by area voters to create a regional training center for firefighters by building a $19-million state-of-the-art facility. The new training center will enable the Tulsa Fire Department to keep up with the growing community needs for fire, disaster and emergency response capabilities training. It will also make Tulsa a regional training mecca for these essential community services.

Attendees at the graduation ceremonies were treated to a song authored and performed by Capt. Larry Bowles, Public Information Officer for the Tulsa Fire Department titled “No Greater Love.” The song is about the ultimate commitment made everyday by all firefighters to serve their community. It reminded all those present of the depth of that commitment. A glance around the auditorium at the young, uniformed men and women firefighters also reminded one of how blessed a community is to have such competent, dedicated professionals always ready to serve in times of trouble.

Updated 02-26-2007

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