Liberty County Fire Services completed their first in-house training for nine newly certified firefighters, and on Friday night, the county celebrated by having a graduation ceremony at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center.
The new recruits underwent 14 weeks of extensive training, learning every aspect of firefighting.
Liberty County Fire Services Chief Brian Darby explained the history of the department, which was coordinated by now retired Capt. James H. Ashdown, who was the former fire chief undertaking multiple positions within the department. When Darby became chief in 2017, the department was still an unpaid, all-volunteer department.
Working with county administrators and the Board of Commissioners, Darby managed to grow the department, adding the first full-time paid firefighters in 2019. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, sending personnel for training in Forsyth was stalled, but the need to grow the department was still necessary.
In March 2022, Ashdown assumed the role of Captain of the Training Division, and Class 1 started.
With a county-wide fire protection plan in place and the continued growth of the county, Darby said they plan to continue adding personnel as needed to sufficiently respond to all emergency calls.
County Administrator Joey Brown said the first recruiting class is proof that the board, the county and the fire department are working together to support a sustainable department made up of professionals who can help train and mentor a group of individuals to become part of an outstanding team. He congratulated Darby, Ashdown and the recruits for a job well done.
Brown described firefighters as “uniquely brave individuals who fight fires, rescue people trapped in buildings and vehicles, serve as a first responder and perform first aid during medical emergencies until paramedics arrive, and are the first to clear roadways at home after a disaster.” Brown further stated they educate people on safety, teach CPR and even rescue animals.
“They have no limits and express no fear,” Brown said.
State of Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Chairman Tony Pritchett said it was a history- making moment for the department. He said these recruits’ journeys are just beginning.
“I challenge you each to strive to reach the highest level of education in your career in order to serve your community with the highest and utmost quality levels of service,” he said. “Because this is what they expect, and this is what they deserve.”
He said being a firefighter is more than a job or paycheck.
“Firefighters have the adaptability to get the job done,” he said. “This profession is truly a brother- and sisterhood, and you must take care of one another. Because when the going gets tough and you are in the fight of your life, each other is all you will have.”
The nine recruits received their certificates and their fire helmets and took their oaths to serve the residents of the community. They are now certified as firefighters, hazmat and medical first responders and also underwent truck operations training.
Recruit Raegan Anderson said it was an awesome experience.
“I am definitely a better person than when I first started this class,” she said.
All the recruits will be added to the county’s various fire departments, and a few were set to start their shifts as early as last Sunday.
“It’s allowing us to grow and teach not only the aspects of firefighting, but also the way that Liberty County operates, both with SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) within the fire department, but also with the Board of Commissioners,” Darby said.
He added the new recruits will continue to learn about fighting fires by working alongside seasoned veterans. He said the county now has 27 paid staff in the department.
“The more people on scene, the faster we put the fire out,” Darby said.