VALHALLA, N.Y. – Sam Brecker walked with his head held high, knowing he was certified to serve and protect his neighbors in Hastings.
"I'm feeling pretty happy right now," Brecker said. "I've wanted to be a firefighter my whole life and I can't wait to get started."
Brecker was among the 104 graduates from 40 volunteer fire departments honored Wednesday night in a countywide ceremony marking their completion of the Firefighter 1 training program. The new volunteer firefighters underwent training exercises throughout the year with 96 hours of classroom instruction and hands-on training.
Among those in attendance were County Executive Robert Astorino and Acting Commissioner John M. Cullen of the Department of Emergency Services, who both addressed the graduates.
"Service to your community is paramount," Cullen said. "Helping others in need is what this is all about and we gathered today to show that we are all behind the graduates."
Hundreds of family members, friends and colleagues packed the Robert J. Schnibbe Jr. Support Services Building of the Department of Emergency Services in Valhalla to get a glimpse of the graduates' special moment. Their work was showcased during a slideshow presentation arranged by Training Technician Luci Labriola-Cuffe.
Astorino thanked the new firefighters for their dedication and spoke of Westchester County's experience with volunteer fire departments, citing their rich history.
"We are very fortunate to have such caring people in our community," Astorino said in his address to the graduates. "It takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter. It's such a demanding position."
After the ceremony, Brecker hugged his friends and family with a smile on his face.
"It's a great feeling to finally make it here," Brecker said.