EAST PROVIDENCE — The spirit and dedication of the East Providence Fire Department were on full display Friday evening, May 16, at the commencement ceremony for the 31st academy of firefighter recruits held in the Martin Middle School auditorium.
Sixteen of the original 18-member class of probationary firefighters, affectionately referred to as “probies” or “boots,” received their graduation certificates, shields and assignments during the roughly two hour event.
The 31st graduating class (assignments in parenthesis) included Jason Andrade (Station 3, Rumford), Nicholas Bedard (Station 1, Center City), Patrick Brassil (Station 3), Sharon Corriveau (Station 1), Christopher Drury (Station 2, Riverside), Robert Ferris (Station 1), Andrew Handfield (Station 3), Daniel Kanavage (Station 2), Joel Kingman (Station 1), Daniel Lavallee (Station 1), Kyle Miner (Station 1), Jamie Silva (Station 1), Nicholas Vinacco (Station 1), Thomas Votta (Station 3), Nathan Winsor (Station 1) and Peter Zarriello (Station 1).
Probationary Firefighter Corriveau, just the third female to ever complete the academy and about to become the second of two active women in the department, earned valedictorian honors. Probationary Firefighter Drury received the first-ever Academy Leadership Award, voted on by his peers.
In her remarks to the class, PF Corriveau, the first female valedictorian in the long academy history, said “we have persevered and move on as probationary firefighters in this great city,” that they were “bonded by the same desire to help people in need” and that they would be “part of the best department in the state.”
EPFD academy lead instructor Captain Michael O’Melia served as master of ceremonies, department chaplain Father John Unsworth gave the invocation and young Benjamin North led the audience of approximately 400 fellow firefighters, family and friends in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Capt. O’Melia, quoting a poem with the words “wishes, hopes and far-off dreams,” formally opened the ceremony by telling the recruits they “had worked hard” and “had earned” their spots in the department.
Friday’s commencement was the culmination of 16 weeks of classroom and external training for the “probies.” The process actually began in August of 2013 with the submission of applications. Written and physical tests as well as a mental evaluations followed. The candidates were accepted into the academy in November.
EPFD Training Division Director Captain John Kelahan next told the class, among other things, “We welcome you to this department, to the greatest profession on earth. You have truly earned it.”
Of PF Corriveau’s noteworthy achievement, Capt. Kelahan quipped, “You proved one thing, in this academy at least, that girls are really smarter than boys.”
Firefighter Steven Favulli Sr., of the Worcester (Massachusetts) Fire Department, delivered the key note address. Referring to the class members as “boots,” Firefighter Favulli spoke of the importance the profession places on pride, honor, integrity and tradition. He told the recruits to “respect residents” of the city and that the “people are our No. 1 priority.”
A 32-year veteran and third-generation firefighter, he said the “boots” should “leave the job at the station” and should share their feelings with their loved ones before and after every shift. He spoke of their new “second family,” the brotherhood of firefighters, a group they will be a part of for the rest of their lives.
In closing he said, “stay safe, take care of each other and enjoy the ride. It’s the best.”
EPFD Chief Oscar Elmasian and Mayor James Briden administered the probationary firefighters the Oath of Office. Chief Elmasian then welcomed the graduates to the department.
Chief Elmasian told the recruits they had just completed “one of the most thorough and stringent academies not just in the state, but in the country.”
Besides announcing the new Leadership Award for the academy, Chief Elmasian also introduced a mentoring program, which pairs veterans of the department with each new member throughout the probationary period of at least one year.
Of the evening and the beginning of their career journey, Chief Elmasian said all of the elder firefighters in the audience “wish we could be sitting in those seats and starting all over again.”
Noting the importance of comportment, the chief implored the new firefighters to know their “conduct, on and off the job, is a reflection of this department and this city.”
The lone city resident to complete the academy was Probationary Firefighter Handfield. A Barrington native and Barrington High School graduate, he has long-standing ties to East Providence. His family was once the proprietor of Airwick Janitorial Supply Co. here.
“My family owned a business in East Providence for 32 years. I pretty much grew up working in the city. I used to see the (fire) trucks go by,” said PF Handfield, 36 and a city resident since 2005. “About six years ago I got involved with the harbor patrol. I saw both sides of public service, police and fire.
“When my parents retired and sold the business, I was looking at what I was going to do next. I took my EMT and cardiac courses. I started taking the written tests. When this opportunity came along, I jumped at it. There was no option for me. The choice was easy. I wanted to work in East Providence. It’s just a great city.”