Kilgore College graduated 28 of its Fire Academy students in a special ceremony and fire suppression demonstration at the academy’s Overton training center Monday night.

Students from KC Fire Academy Class 114 participated in a fire “evolution,” battling a simulated car fire that spread into a larger blaze inside of a mock three-story building. The situation required teams of students to attack the blaze using local water sources, cut holes in the structure and rescue mock civilians from the fire.

Local fire departments contributed “scene lighting” from trucks and portable lamps to illuminate the academy’s first nighttime graduation demonstration. KC Fire Academy Director Mike Simmons said this was the school’s third ceremony featuring a fire demonstration.

Class team leader Courtney Valer, from Creston, British Columbia, Canada, delivered a speech to the graduation audience, expressing gratitude for the academy and her fellow students.

Valer came to the Academy after serving for a year at her hometown volunteer fire department in Canada, where some called joining the ranks of firefighters “the best career choice you ever will ever make in your life,” despite the job’s risks and dangers.

“Something led us here to this moment, graduating from Fire Academy and looking forward toward a career in the fire service,” Valer said. “We’re all here in some way because someone cared… One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned here is that we cannot do this job alone.”

Class 114 consisted of 26 students from all over Texas, and two students from Canada. The academy routinely attracts Canadian students because of its affordability and special relationships with Canadian fire departments, Valer said.

Graduates included Cory Blane Whatley, of Alba; Wyatt Whitaker, of Anson; James Stewart, of Boerne; Morgan Bush, of Chandler; Courtney Valer, of Creston, British Columbia, Canada; Eric Viramontes, of Denton; Roberto Enriquez, of Forney; Zach Millhorn, of Garland; Caleb Harroff, Grayson Barnett and Joshua Kessler, of Gladewater; Ethan Freeman and Joshua Hughes, of Henderson; Timothy Moyer, of Lindale; Dawson Lourenco, Juan Atencio and Trevor Browning, of Lubbock; Eric Collier, of Lucas; Gabriel Giblin and Noah Miciotto, of Nacogdoches; Nicholas Delgado, of New Braunfels; Simon Kruger, of Round Rock; Collin Cook, of Royse City; Trae Pritchett, of Terrell; Garrett Lane, of Tyler; Jackson Riediger, of Vineland, Ontario, Canada; Brandon Galles, of Waskom; and Brandon Noll, of Winnsboro.

The class spent three months training through classwork, simulated scenarios and job shadowing among KC staff and local fire departments. When they weren’t hard at work, the students participated in games against KC’s police and EMT academy students.

“My favorite part of the academy was definitely beating the cops at kickball,” Fire Academy graduate Brandon Noll said. “Graduating feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I’m glad I’m done, but I’m glad of the experiences I had here.”

Noll said he intends to enroll in KC’s EMT training program after graduation to prepare for a job in emergency response. Other students, like Valer, have positions lined up at fire departments when they leave the program.

Kilgore College’s Fire Academy has received an “exemplary” rating from the State of Texas and currently ranks as the top school for online fire science courses by

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