The Seminole Tribe Fire Rescue Department welcomed six new firefighters to the team at a graduation and badge ceremony on June 29.
Family and friends gathered to celebrate graduates Jose Cabañas, Rafael Diaz, Brandon Harris, Vincent Sovik, John Vilches and Devyn Williams, who completed the fire department’s six-week training.
“It’s not easy getting through school. We put them through the ringer…so I’m very proud of them,” said Donald DiPetrillo, fire chief and director of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Department of Fire Rescue.
During their first six weeks of training, firefighter recruits learn medical and departmental protocols and undergo physical training. They also get specialized instruction in working with hazardous materials and dealing with snakes and other reptiles.
Firefighter, paramedic and graduate Devyn Williams called training “a grueling six weeks.”
“I was honored to be [at the ceremony],” he said. “I was proud of myself. I was proud of all the guys. It’s a big accomplishment for us.”
All of the graduates were certified firefighters and paramedics before beginning the department’s training.
“This process is not only renewing their skills but bringing them together as a group because some of them get trained at different locations but we want them to come together as a team,” said DiPetrillo.
During their affirmation of oath, the graduates swore to serve and protect the Tribal members and their communities. Next, they’ll be assigned to various members of the fire department to receive additional training during their probationary year.
“The training that they do is what keeps us safe and what brings them home to their families at night,” said former Deputy Fire Chief Robert Brown.
Brandon Harris, one of the graduates, was excited about the opportunity to work for the department. Harris said it took him five years to get hired.
“It’s a remarkable feeling to be where I am right now,” he explained. “I know what I’m getting into, I know that I’m going to have to work hard, I know that nothing is going to come easy and I know that I’m going to have to earn every ounce of respect I can.”
The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors by the Seminole Police and Fire Honor Guard and the Black Pearl Pipe and Drums – a ritual Harris said gave him goose bumps.
“I always get goose bumps at these kinds of ceremonies, just with the…honor guard, the drums, the pipes, everything … and the first time I ever felt that feeling I knew that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, just because of how it made me feel from the inside out,” he said.
Jose Cabañas, another graduate, said he’s looking forward to being able to help tribal members and their communities.
“They expect you to be that person that helps them when they call 911 and to be that person who can solve basically any problem or issue that they have,” Cabañas explained.
Cabañas said he appreciated that the department hosted a graduation for the recruits and their families.
“A lot of departments don’t do that,” he said.
During his brief speech at the ceremony, DiPetrillo stressed that the fire department is fortunate to be part of the Seminole family.
“Being in the fire service – it’s a family, and the Tribe is just like that. It’s a family. Even though they’re spread out across the state…they still feel like they’re family,” said DiPetrillo. “They treat every one of us like family members and we try to take care of them like they’re our family members as well.”