Northeast Texas Fire/EMS Training Academy instructor Andy Endsley (right) and lead instructor Doug Skinner (2nd from right) congratulate class valedictorian/president Paul Barnum (left) and salutatorian Lui Sgroi during the Northeast Texas Fire/EMS Training Academy Class 27D commencement service Friday. A mere 1/10th of a point separated Barnum and Sgroi.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Fire Academy graduates 14 recruits

Graduates lauded for finishing with above-average grades

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

July 14, 2008 - Northeast Texas Fire-EMS Training Academy Class 27D was commended by its instructors and academy personnel for finishing with grades well above the state average at the end of their basic firefighter certification class last week.

"I'm especially proud of them," said Larry Davlin, chief executive officer of Northeast Texas Fire & EMS Training Academy in Sulphur Springs. "This group's done a tremendous job. Their averages are well beyond the state average. I was elated, and that's putting it mildly."

"That first week of class I told y'all, 'I think you're something special. I think y'all will do good,'" said Doug Skinner, lead academy instructor as well as a captain for Longview Fire Department. "You've got what it takes."

The grades came in with a 100 percent pass rate, Skinner said, and more than an 80 percent overall average.

"I could quickly see this is a gifted group," Skinner added. "You can come to may station any time and I'll give you a try. I'd have no problem going into a house fire with you any given day."

The top two students were lauded for especially high marks, finishing with only one-tenth of a point difference in their overall class average.

Class 27-D President Paul Barnum, a recruit sponsored by Paris Fire Department, was named valedictorian. He completed the academy with a 100.3 grade point average. Lui Sgroi, was named salutatorian. Sgroi, along with David "Dave" Roell and Joshua "The Kid" King, was selected to serve as house lieutenants at Brinker Volunteer Fire Department's station where 11 of the 14 graduates were housed.

Cody Scott Williams received the Matt Ringler Award, given each class to the person who achieved and showed the most improvement throughout the academy. The award is given in honor of Matt Ringler, a Grapevine firefighter and Brinker volunteer firefighter who was killed in a vehicle crash in Hopkins County June 13, 2004, along with his son Chance and state trooper Stan Avery and his son Jake. Becky Ringler Endsley presented the award in honor of her first husband Matt, who was also an academy instructor.

Mrs. Endsley also presented Paul Barnum the Theron B. Gray Award, given in memory of the firefighter who died in 2000 in the line of duty. The award is given each class to a person who shows "outstanding potential as a firefighter."

"Paul did a great job, and for that we give him the Theron B. Gray award," said Andy Endsley, a fire academy instructor, Brinker volunteer fireman and husband of Becky Ringler Endsley, and a Hopkins County firefighter.

"My fondest memory of Paul, who was staying at Brinker where we housed all but three of this group, was him walking around the fire station with earplugs in his ears and his nose in a book. He said he couldn't study with the noise," instructor Endsley said of Barnum.

Skinner and Davlin reminded the academy graduates not to forget the sacrifices their families make to support them or take that support for granted, and thanked the families for their continued support.

"We appreciate all the families ... Without your support of them, doing without them, this academy would be real hard," Davlin said. "I also offer my appreciation to the staff. We couldn't do this without you."

Families sacrifice time with these young men and will later as do all families of firemen to make it possible for them to train and do their jobs. To an extent firefighters families have to be independent of them, as firemen are at the fire house at least every third day. Wives cope when the car or household equipment breaks down while their partner is at the station. They cope with day-to-day issues that crop up at home and with children, he noted.

Barnum also thanked each class members' family and friends, and the community for their part in each young man becoming certified as firefighters. He also reminded them not to forget the role God played in their class success and will continue to have in their safety.

Class 27-D's motto "We came as strangers, we became friends, we leave as brothers" aptly sums up their academy experience, according to the instructors.

"That first day you came in as individuals," Skinner said. "You came together as a group to talk about what the job is, what you'll be doing, training. After all that talk and training mutual respect was given to me and each other. As firemen, if one's got problems you work together. We spend one-third our life away from home with your other family. Y'all are entering the best fraternal order out there. If you go to other states or other countries, you're one of them. It takes good heart to be a good man. This is the greatest job out there, firefighting. The rewards are not money, but what you do. With a fire department you make a living, it comes down to family, at home and at the station."

"The fire family is a tremendous organization, a brotherhood like no other throughout the country and the world," Davlin noted.

Endsley noted that about mid term the class spends a day talking about what the "brotherhood" is about, "how we take care of one another. If one of the guys is having a bad day at the station, you do whatever you can to help him out of it. If his kid is sick, your kid's sick."

He said the group had two opportunities to see first-hand the firefighting brotherhood in action, during a ceremony in which a bell was installed on the front of Brinker VFD's truck in memory of Matt and Chance Ringler in time-honored firefighter tradition.

"We talked about a firefighter's funeral," Endsley noted. "There's not another ceremony like it. Unfortunately, this class experienced one this week. A volunteer firefighter was responding to a motor vehicle crash and had a heart attack. It was a line of duty death. They did a very good job. ... You've seen what it's truly like, how we [firemen] take care of each other."

He also noted how each learned to compromise and put aside their differences to work together as a group during the class and while housed at Brinker VFD's station during the course. Endsley told them to keep that in mind as they pursue their careers in the fire service, as station life will involve the same type of camaraderie and compromise.

Endsley and several other members of Brinker VFD presented Todd Parchman a plaque thanking him for his service as house and group captain. House Lts. Joshua King, David Roell and Luis Sgroi also were presented plaques for their part in helping keep things organized at Brinker fire station during the class.

Barnum said that during the class he's come to learn that it is a brotherhood, where each individual does his own task and is successful only because of the others working alongside him doing their tasks as well.

Paul Barnum, Josh Cole, Josh Taylor Cole, Braden Fournier, Jonathan Jones, Joshua King, Lucas Lane, Ahmad Mohamad, Todd Parchman, Bill Ramos, David Roell, Cody Scott Williams, Lui Sgroi and Bryan Whitaker were each awarded certificates for passing tests which meet state and international basic firefighting standards.

In closing, Skinner offered these final words of advise to Class 27-D:

"You will never know it all," Skinner said. "I don't know it all. I learn better each time I teach. Things change; always change with it. Be prepared to do lots of training and practice. Our job is to stay ready. The fire service like a good insurance company. People don't want to use us, but when they have to they want the best. Learn from your mentors and when you get older and wise, you become a mentor to somebody else.

"Stay in touch," Skinner said. "These guys have become your friends, a family. They'll be some of your best friends, so stay in touch."

While the students graduated from the basic fire suppression class, most were to continue their studies Monday, taking the emergency medical technicians class.

Enrollment in the next basic fire suppression academy course which begins Sept. 1 is under way. Applications are available at Northeast Texas Fire & EMS Training Academy, located on Sharon Lane. For more information, call 903-438-0300.

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