Eight Franklin Firefighters Graduate From Somerset County Fire Academy

Eight Franklin firefighters who are committed to six departments in the township graduated from the Somerset County Fire Academy in Hillsborough on January 27.

The ceremony was the first graduation ceremony held at the academy since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The newly minted Firefighter 1 graduates were among 38 graduates heading to 24 fire departments in Somerset County.

Township graduates and the departments to which they are committed were:

  • Jack Kane and Khari Voorhees, East Franklin Volunteer Fire Co.
  • Gary Hemmings, Franklin Park Volunteer Fire Co.
  • Taif Kazi, Kingston Fire Co.
  • Matthew Hutchinson, Little Rocky Hill Volunteer Fire Dept.
  • Michael Grossman, Middlebush Fire Co.
  • Kayci Galietta and Guy Troy Wilcox Jr., Millstone Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Douglas Singleterry, Deputy Director of the Somerset County Board of Commissioners, praised the graduates for their commitment to their neighbors.

“You give us all faith that our homes and loved ones are protected at all times, and when disaster strikes, there are highly skilled, highly trained, highly motivated neighbors ready to come and give us their help and hope they need to recover,” he said.

Singleterry noted that even before the pandemic struck, volunteerism at many fire departments was on the downswing.

“Many of our departments in Somerset County and surrounding municipalities saw a significant loss in volunteers and had an extremely difficult time recruiting new volunteers,” he said. “This at a time when we’re seeing more major disasters strike, like Hurricane Ida just a year ago.”

“Were it not for firefighters and other first responders going out into the storm, many more lives would have been lost,” he said. “But they were there, just as you have been trained to do when the next disaster strikes.”

“Over the next year or so, one or more of you will be responsible for keeping a home from being destroyed, saving the life of a mother or father, or keeping a grass fire from spreading into a residential neighborhood,” Singleterry said.

“It is no small thing to commit to enter a burning building, to carry dozens of pounds of gear on your back … you have to be ready to save someone else’s life at a moment’s notice.”

Singleterry promised that the Commissioners will support county firefighters.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate spoke with several of the Township graduates and Offciers:

Somerset County Office of Emergency Management Director Lisa Werner, who oversees the Emergency Services Training Academy, celebrated the “little return to normal” that the ceremony represented.

“I am so proud to be here to be a part of these firefighters’ training, and to ensure that this academy is here to serve the people of Somerset County for many generations to come,” she said.

Alan Querec, one of the Academy’s instructors, told the graduates to continue with their training.

“You’re at the start of an unbelievable career,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The best mistake is one that you figure the answer to.”

“No one in this room is perfect,” he said. “Look up to other people in the department, look up to other people in your class, and look to those folks to help you with whatever you need.”

To the graduates’ families, Querec said, “You just inherited a whole other family. They will be there if you need something.”

“You’re the half percent of the country that steps up to help people,” he said. “I congratulate you for being an excellent class.”

Also making an appearance at the ceremony was retired Franklin Township police officer Larry Booker, who played the bagpipes.

Founded in 1991, the Fire Academy is part of Somerset County’s Emergency Services Training Academy in Hillsborough, as part of the Office of Emergency Management. The Academy is tasked with providing educational training and certification for fire, EMS, CERT, Law Enforcement, Emergency Management, search and rescue, amateur radio testing, hazardous materials handling, and other public safety personnel in Somerset County and throughout the state.

Here are some scenes from the evening:

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