Eight Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR) first responder candidates officially committed to serving the City of Gainesville during a signing ceremony in front of family and friends on July 1.
The event took place at the City’s Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center right before the start of a monthly midnight basketball tournament.
It was GFR Capt. Conrade Irving who proposed the idea of fashioning the ceremony to mirror signing days for athletes who commit to sports teams.
“I saw a high school signing where the athletes were going to other areas to pursue their careers in sports,” Irving said. “I wondered if we had done anything to honor those individuals who were making a decision to give back to this community.”
GFR will be sponsoring the eight signees from the event plus one who was not in attendance for a total of nine candidates for future employment. According to Irving, this is the first time the City of Gainesville has hosted a signing event to recognize future public safety employees as they accept a conditional letter of employment.
The City will pay for their training at Florida State Fire College (FSFC) in Ocala and future employment is contingent upon earning firefighter certification and successfully completing Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training.
Upon accomplishing these requirements, the certified candidates will complete a 7-week orientation at GFR to demonstrate proficiency before joining fellow firefighters in response to emergency calls.
“These candidates are pledging their commitment to excellent service for the community and to each other as the City demonstrates its commitment to delivering ‘Best in Class’ neighbor services to all residents,” said GFR Fire Chief Joseph Dixon. “We continue to invest and secure the future of GFR emergency response in our community.”
The candidates were originally selected by GFR based on National Testing Network scores, performance testing and individual interviews.
At the July 1 event, Irving told the crowd that the candidates – Rene Owens, John Tumbleson, Shane Moore, Trenton Withers, Arvin Mackey, Mathew Martinez, Kyle Cook, Josiah Dye and Graham Thompson – are the future of the fire department.
“This is something that Gainesville Fire Rescue has never done before,” Irving said. “And we saw it very befitting to do it now. It’s what we call our Gainesville Fire Rescue and EMS signing day. We look at these candidates as the future of Gainesville Fire Rescue.”
Irving introduced GFR upper management Deputy Chief Joseph Hillhouse, Assistant Chief Stephen Hesson and Assistant Chief David Sutton in attendance and in dress uniforms.
And because the monthly basketball event usually starts with a speaker who encourages the next generation to “look further than the here and now,” Irving spoke to the teens in the stands saying, “We hope this signing day may plant the seed so that in the future this may be a possible option for them as well.”
Irving said that the future first responders are examples of adults.
“This younger generation will grow up and become adults,” Irving said. “How do I know when I’m an adult?”
Irving then gave the crowd a concept to consider.
“If your life is defined by what you have taken from people then you’re still acting childish, no matter what age,” he said. “However, if your life is identified by what you have given, then you’re acting like adults,” he said, adding that it was time to “honor those who have chosen to be givers.”
Irving then shared the Oath Appointment by reading it out loud.
“I do solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the State of Florida, and the Codes and Ordinances of the City of Gainesville. I will conduct myself in a professional manner in all circumstances and will dedicate my best efforts to the saving of lives and preservation of property. I commit, without reservation, to perform with dedication and courage, accepting the risks of my profession, for the greater good of my citizens, my community, and my fellow firefighters.”
He turned to the candidates who stood shoulder to shoulder and said, “They are giving us confidence in the future and hope that if you ever need help because there is an emergency, just know that our future is very, very bright. You might see one of these faces responding to you.”
One by one, Irving called each candidate to sign their oath while surrounded by family and friends.
Before the ceremony candidate John Tumbleson, 18, said he had just graduated from Countryside Christian School, which is a small school where he said there are no big events like the one he was taking part in thanks to GFR.
“This night is the next step in my future,” he said. “It’s great what they are doing,”
Tumbleson said beyond the firefighting and EMT training, he was looking to enroll in a search and rescue course.
Candidate Mathew Martinez, 27, spent four years serving in the infantry from 2012 to 2016 in the U.S. Marine Corps and currently attends the University of Florida. He grew up in Naples, Florida and moved to Gainesville to study veterinary science.
He said he met a GFR lieutenant who suggested he join the team and was convinced since several of his military friends have become firefighters too.
“I have one brotherhood and I’m looking for the next one,” Martinez said, deciding to put school on hold to become a first responder.
As candidates were announced, they came to the signing table with friends and family as each signed a letter of intent, then put on a GFR shirt and cap.
Family members applauded and cheered them on.
Irving said that, unlike sports team signings where the athletes tend to leave the community, the GFR signees will be keeping their talent local.
He thanked the candidates and the crowd again for taking part in the signing ceremony which he plans to schedule annually.
“The future for Gainesville and our ability to respond to emergencies if you ever need help and you call 911 looks very, very bright,” Irving said.