HOLLYWOOD — Though the newest members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue Department already boasted nearly half a century of combined lifesaving experience, graduation Class 15-01 was honored at Tribe Headquarters Aug. 27 after completing six weeks of intense and specific training.
“These men and women are the best of the best,” said Fire Marshal Robert Brown. “And tonight they are full-fledged Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue.”
Brown said the seven men and two women, previously certified as firefighters and paramedics, earned Seminole badges after completing rigorous additional instruction on Seminole land. Specific exercises prepared recruits for emergency situations at reservation locations that could require helicopter rescues, wild brush firefighting and medical response to vehicle crashes on remote roads.
Newcomers also were familiarized with off-grid locations of camps, homes and wild land.
Graduation night at the Hollywood Reservation unfolded in grand ceremony. The Seminole Police and Fire Honor Guard presented flags, the Black Pearl Pipes and Drums band performed a bagpipe march, and department certificates and badges were presented by Fire Rescue Chief Donald DiPetrillo and Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola.
Family members and friends applauded when Councilman Osceola praised the class and welcomed them into the Seminole community.
“We are happy to have you learn from the best in the business, learn our culture and experience what it’s like to work in Indian Country,” Councilman Osceola said. “Anyone willing to stand up and sacrifice themselves for others when called upon is a true hero.”
Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, who earned his first paycheck as a firefighter in the early 1970s, also commended the class – with a dose of humor.
“So now I can say, ‘Welcome to the family.’ You have to be crazy as a caged coon to face down this job and do it in a controlled manner,” Rep. Frank said.
The Tribe’s newest firefighter-paramedics are Cherie Arroyo, Ruben Cruzalvarez, David Escobar, Nicholas Garcia, Michael Hopkins, Daniel Korn, Jenni Lebron, Tyler McKerchie and Stephan Michael.
For Hopkins, the ceremony was also a homecoming. He became a Seminole Tribe firefighter-paramedic in 2002 but had to leave in 2013 when he faced a personal battle with lymphoma. Now cancer free, Hopkins relaunched his career by retraining with Class 15-01 and resuming his former role as a trainer.
“I have been on this stage at least 20 times as a training officer for 20 classes but now I see things differently,” Hopkins said. “Cancer changes perspective on everything. I used to be a man’s man; now I know how much family means.”
Graduates ranged in ages from 23 to 39 with varied backgrounds – from restaurant workers to a stay-at-home mom. Now, Brown said, they are all equal in the brother and sisterhood of firefighters.
DiPetrillo, who said the recent recruits were chosen from hundreds of applicants nationwide, echoed Brown.
“We are family and the Tribe is family. We back each other up,” DiPetrillo said. “We are dedicated to do whatever they need, and they help us with whatever we need.”