Despite the dreadful weather outside, Tuesday was a great day for the newest additions to the New Haven Fire Department and the Allingtown Fire District, which includes parts of West Haven.

Twenty-nine firefighters — 24 from New Haven and five from Allingtown — were formally welcomed into the Fire Department and Allingtown Fire District families at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven after 22 weeks of training.

Family and new beginnings were themes repeated throughout the ceremony.

“This isn’t just about earning a living,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “The Fire Department is no different than any family or any community.”

The new recruits enter the Fire Department as the most decorated recruiting class in history and with the best training. All of the recruits have trained with 100-foot ladders, sliding ropes, and cold water suits and have extinguished class A and B fires. The new recruits are also certified emergency medical technicians and hazardous material technicians.

The recruits have been training every day for the last four months. Their regimen preparation consisted of physical training, classroom work, and firefighting training.

“It’s a good group of recruits,” said Ronald Dumas, the Fire Department’s assistant chief of administration. “They’ll add to the strength of this department and we’re looking forward to their starting as soon as possible.”

Class valedictorian Leah Harwin testified to the importance of teamwork and unity, citing the difficulty she encountered when a shoulder injury suffered during training almost caused her to quit. The help of fellow recruit Julio Padilla dissuaded her from doing so.

“I am definitely not the best,” Harwin said. “Our entire class is the best.”

DeStefano emphasized the importance of the newly-minted graduates’ role in their communities and in society.

“If there is one thing I ask that you don’t forget, it is your commitment to service,” DeStefano said. “Be a role model.”

The ceremonies began with the entrance of the New Haven Fire Department American Legion Post 132 Color Guard and the New Haven County Firefighter’s Emerald Society Pipe and Drums, which included a bagpipe and drum rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

While the majority of the ceremonies were upbeat, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives were evidently in everyone’s thoughts. This class was the first to graduate since the attacks.

Fire Department Chief Dennis Daniels commended the graduates for choosing to become firefighters after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I salute all of you for your dedication,” Daniels said.

Following Sept. 11, 2001, training in cleanup of hazardous materials, such as anthrax, became a requirement for recruits.

The beginning of the graduates’ new life climaxed with the presentation of badges.

“This day Nov. 12, 2002 is a day that will not be forgotten by you,” said George Longyear, president of the Board of Fire Commissioners.

The graduates will now become probationary firefighters for the next year and must complete as many as three years of service before becoming full department members.

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