Bulloch County Fire Department Recruit Classes 22-1 and 22-2 graduated on Saturday, July 23

The Bulloch County Fire Department held a graduation ceremony for its Recruit Classes 22-1 and 22-2 on Saturday, July 23, at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds.

Recruit Class 22-1 included six men who will now join the Bulloch County Fire Department as volunteer firefighters: Oskar Cerpovicz, Alexander Coghlan, Chandler Cowart, Connor DiNitto, Walt Jeffers, and Jeremy Kinsey.

Recruit Class 22-2 produced four new career firefighters for Bulloch County: Branden Benton, Timothy Jordan, David Roberson, and Devin Rozier.

The recruits trained over a 10-week period under the guidance and direction of Interim Fire Chief Ben Tapley and Acting Training Officer Mitch Sikes.

In addition to many family and friends of the graduates, the event was attended by current members of the fire force, Public Safety Director Ted Wynn, County Manager Tom Couch, County Commission Chair Roy Thompson, and Commissioners Anthony Simmons and Jappy Stringer.

Officials offer thanks and encouragement

Chief Tapley welcomed everyone to the ceremony and introduced Wynn for opening remarks.

Wynn thanked those who were integral in establishing a full-time fire department for the citizens of greater Bulloch County, including Tapley, Sikes, Bulloch County firefighter Joe Carter, BCFD’s Etta Diemert, Bulloch County Human Resources Director Cindy Mallet, BCFD Volunteer Fire Coordinator and Recruitment Coordinator Patricia Lanier Jones, and the county commission. 

He also honored the recruits and their families for their dedication to the program both during training and going forward.

“I want to thank your families who will sacrifice many holidays, weekends, and special moments so you can serve the community,” Wynn said. 

The graduation ceremony was attended by family, friends, and officials (Whitney Lavoie for Grice Connect)

“I often tell people that, ‘Your worst nightmare is just another day at the office for these firefighters,’” he added. “When people are having their worst days, that’s when we like to show up and help.”

Commissioner Stringer then offered a prayer to celebrate the achievements of the new firefighters and to ask for their safety in their tireless service to our community, and Recruit Chandler Cowart led the pledge of allegiance.

Chief Tapley invited the officials and special guests in attendance to offer their remarks to the recruits, as well.

County Commission Chair Thompson noted that a lot of work has gone into establishing a full-time fire department for the county.

“It takes everybody working together to fight a fire,” he said.

County Manager Tom Couch spoke on behalf of Bulloch County when he addressed the new firefighters.

“I’m pretty sure I speak for the entire community when I say we’re so proud of you and what you’re about to accomplish today. And we’re grateful,” he said.

Bulloch County fire engines 72 and 22, which the new career firefighters will join (Whitney Lavoie for Grice Connect)

Recruitment Coordinator Pat Jones then shared some encouraging words with the recruit classes. She noted how many hundreds of hours they had already dedicated to their new profession.

Volunteer recruits have completed more than 164 hours, and career personnel have already put in more than 400 hours.

“Whether career or volunteer, you showed your dedication to our department,” she said. “You were determined. You stood by each other … You made it. For that, I am very proud of each and every one of you.”

Shared fire training experiences created an “unbreakable bond”

Moving into the official graduation festivities, Chief Tapley recounted the challenges faced and overcome by the recruits in both classes. 

“The most common reason given for choosing firefighting is wanting to help people,” he said. “But you will be pushed past your limits, and that’s where you grow.”

He highlighted the determination and perseverance shown by each recruit during the training period.

“To serve others and do it selflessly is the best job in the world,” he added.

Training Officer Sikes also spoke directly to the graduates to recount their shared experiences over the last several months. He noted their remarkable commitment to the profession.

“I had the privilege of leading this group, and I know this journey has been extremely difficult and long,” Sikes said. “Each day, I would ask them, ‘Are you ready to give one hundred percent for everything we have planned today?’ And these men brought it – every day.”

Sikes echoed the sentiments of others when he thanked the families of the firefighters for the sacrifices they will make going forward. He also noted the importance of what these men will provide for our community.

“You’ll be asked to put aside your personal life on a daily basis to serve the citizens of Bulloch County. We treat everyone as if they were a part of our own family; caring for people is what we do,” he said. “Our citizens deserve the best, and I know you will deliver.”

Recruit Class 22-1 leader Jeremy Kinsey addresses his fellow graduates as his family looks on (Whitney Lavoie for Grice Connect)

Each recruit class chose a class leader during their training, and in a special moment for the classes, each of those men was invited to share a few words, as well.

Recruit Class 22-1 leader Jeremy Kinsey said that he has dreamed of being a firefighter since he was a little boy, but it remained just a dream for a long time. But now at age 35, with a full-time day job, he has finally achieved that dream by becoming a volunteer firefighter. He attributed that accomplishment to his passion for the service.

“That’s what everybody asks me, ‘Now – at 35 – you’re going to do this for free?’” Kinsey shared. “Yes, I am. It’s not a vocation. It’s an advocation. I look forward to serving this community and our department.”  

Recruit Class 22-2 leader David Roberson speaks to those gathered for graduation (Whitney Lavoie for Grice Connect)

Recruit Class 22-2 leader David Roberson offered his thoughts on the shared experience of training. He noted that Officer Sikes taught them that fighting fires is often a mental game.

“You have to know that you can do this; you have to be confident in yourself,” he said. “We built a bond that is unbreakable. This is the beginning of a new chapter for all of us and for the fire service.”

Presentation of certificates and fire helmets

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of certificates and helmets to each of the volunteer and career firefighters.

Chief Tapley, Officer Sikes, and Patricia Jones presented the certificates, with Tapley offering anecdotes about each new firefighter.

Then, in the most moving portion of the ceremony, Tapley invited each recruit to bring one family member or friend with them on stage to have that person officially present them with their fire helmet.

“I’m going to allow the family members to present the helmets to the firefighters,” Tapley said. “Because we could do it, and that would be an amazing gesture. But there’s going to be nothing better than if your biggest supporter hands you something so special.”

Volunteer Firefighter Alexander Coghlan, assigned to Station 3 (Bulloch County)
Volunteer Firefighter Chandler Cowart, assigned to Station 3 (Bulloch County)
Volunteer Firefighter Connor DiNitto, assigned to Station 4 (Bulloch County)
Volunteer Firefighter Walt Jeffers, assigned to Station 5 (Bulloch County)
Volunteer Firefighter Jeremy Kinsey, assigned to Station 4 (Bulloch County)
Career Firefighter Branden Benton, assigned to E-22 (Bulloch County)
Career Firefighter Timothy Jordan, assigned to E-22 (Bulloch County)
Career Firefighter David Roberson, assigned to E-72 (Bulloch County)
Career Firefighter Devin Rozier, assigned to E-72 (Bulloch County)

Volunteer Firefighter Oskar Cerpovicz was unable to attend the ceremony.

The numbers on the helmets represent the station or engine the recruit will join. Volunteer firefighter helmets feature a single number, that of their station. Career firefighter helmets have a two-digit number, signifying their engine number.

Tapley officially announced the station and engine assignments during the presentation.

Firefighter oath is just the beginning

County Manager Couch then administered the firefighter oath to the group, noting that he would speak from the floor so that he could look up to the group in honor.

County Manager Tom Couch administers the oath to the new firefighters (Whitney Lavoie for Grice Connect)

In closing, Chief Tapley imparted some wise words on the group about being lifelong learners, dedicated to the service of our community.

“Keep trying until you never get it wrong,” he said. “Our citizens deserve it. Your journey is just beginning, gentlemen.”

Whitney Lavoie

Whitney Lavoie

Whitney Turner Lavoie is a Statesboro native and freelance writer/editor. She is an active volunteer with her children’s school PTO and Girl Scouts of America. Whitney previously worked in health communications...