After Pandemic Delay, Frederick County (MD) Firefighter Recruit Classes Celebrate Graduation

Mary Grace Keller

The Frederick News-Post, Md.

(MCT)

Jul. 17—More than a year after firefighter Chase Sherrard completed his academy training, he finally got to take the walk he was due.

Sherrard strode across the Knott Auditorium stage at Mount St. Mary’s University toward his family. Eight-year-old Payton, standing beside her mother Emily and 1-year-old brother Jax, clutched a pin destined for her father’s uniform.

Sherrard got down on one knee and looked his daughter in the eyes. Payton deftly secured the pin to her dad’s chest. Sherrard whispered, “Good job,” and held out his arms for a hug. Payton embraced him.

“We didn’t exactly get to have a big graduation like the rest of the classes did, so it’s almost like closure to me,” he said later that night.

Sherrard was among nearly 70 graduates across three recruit classes recognized Thursday by the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services. The COVID-19 pandemic led the division to hold informal, private graduations at each academy’s conclusion, but this week, graduates finally got to participate in a formal ceremony with loved ones by their side.

Though the graduates have already been working at fire stations around the county, Chief Tom Coe said the traditional graduation was important to uphold.

“For Frederick County Fire/Rescue’s graduation, ceremonies have always been centered around celebrating with the recruits and their families,” Coe told the News-Post. “So tonight made recruit class 26, 27 and 28’s completion of their academy time finalized. We finally got to celebrate their accomplishments with their families and we couldn’t be happier.”

Coe said recruits underwent weekly COVID-19 tests, donned personal protective equipment and adapted to other new health measures. Each academy spanned 28 weeks, with more than 850 hours of coursework. Recruit Class 29, also impacted by the pandemic, was set to graduate Friday night.

During Thursday’s combined ceremony, Jose Silva’s brother Tiago bestowed his pin upon him, with their parents looking on from their seats. They emigrated from Portugal in 2004.

“For them, seeing me walk across the stage and have this career path that I wanted, it means a lot for them,” Silva said.

He is stationed at Independent Hose Company in Frederick and was drawn to the academy after volunteering in Montgomery County.

More than one graduate described their career as the best job in the world, and Taylor Damskey was among them. He was part of Recruit Class 28, which completed its training in September 2020. He’s been working at Independent Hose, looking forward to the day he could experience a real graduation.

“It’s really a celebration for my family,” Damskey said.

Graduate Patricia Staniewicz described the day as the end to a chapter and a way to show her family what she’s been working toward.

“As a mom of a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old, it was really hard to explain to them why I was gone for so long and have them understand that mom was doing something important and mom was doing something for herself,” Staniewicz said. “So having them here was just kind of the culmination of the past, basically year and a half.”

She was joined by her husband Karol and children Haedyn and Maddie. Staniewicz is stationed at Junior Fire Company in Frederick but started out as a volunteer at United and Westview.

Before the graduates were re-sworn, Fire Chief Kevin Good of the U.S. Army Installation at Fort Belvoir, in his keynote address, spoke to the bond firefighters share.

“This is a career, a home for everyone who wants to take care of people,” Good said.

Taking their oath for the second time, graduates stood in unison and raised their right hands. After the last person reaffirmed their commitment with, “I do,” the auditorium erupted in whoops, cheers and whistles.

Sherrard made his way through the crowd to his family. His wife Emily, who he married during the pandemic, was waiting for him with their children in tow.

“He deserved to still get recognized even though it’s been so long,” Emily Sherrard said. Chase Sherrard has been working at Westview Fire Station in Frederick.

Payton seemed pleased with her dad’s skill set, remarking at the comfort he brings her.

“I feel safe,” Payton said. “I’m very proud of him.”

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller

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