(pictured above: Tomesia Barnes helps Chad Royster pin a badge on his father, Charles.)
As one of the newest members of the Winston-Salem Fire Department, Charles Royster is in the same class with Spider-Man, Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the hearts of many children. But he’s most proud to be his son Chad’s biggest hero.
“He graduated from pre-kindergarten last summer. At his graduation, he said that he wanted to be a fireman,” Royster said. “I decided to try (to join the WSFD) so that I could be his role model. Maybe we will start a legacy that will continue on down the line.”
Six-year-old Chad was one of many on hand at the Benton Convention Center Friday morning to watch as his dad and 14 others joined the venerable WSFD ranks. Though several graduations have taken place on Antony Farmer’s watch as chief. Friday’s was significant. Farmer is retiring in December; Recruit Class XX was the last he’d welcome as the man at the helm.
He gave the keynote, imploring the graduates to remember who they are, what they represent and what is involved in the art of firefighting.
“You are public safety personnel that hold customer service in high regard. You represent your families and the city of Winston-Salem,” said Farmer, who called firefighting one of the most important fraternities in the world. “Maintain your integrity; be sound ethically, and you are also expected to do your best to make the best better.”
Taking such lessons to heart have served Farmer well. He is a 31-year veteran, who, in 1983, began where the graduates are today. He rose through the ranks with frequency – going from firefighter to engineer and then captain. Farmer was a battalion chief and district chief before rising to the department’s zenith.
Graduates like Omari Peterson are hoping for similar career trajectories. Peterson, the class spokesperson, said the road to becoming a firefighter was littered with challenges that brought the class together during 26-weeks of training.
“It is bittersweet,” he said of the class’ last day together. “We have really bonded together throughout this time. We’re all happy to get our badges, and we plan on serving the community; that is what we’re here for.”
Some of the grads received honors during the service. The Vivian H. Burke Character Award was presented to Jamie DeGeare, a former Glenn and Winston-Salem State football standout.
“It has been a long road, so we can now go to our stations and get to work,” he said.
The Top EMT award was given to Cameron Chappell and Ethan Richards; Chappell also received the Top Firefighter I and II honors and the Fire Chief Award. Clinton Hunter won the Outstanding Teammate award.
The other graduates are: Michael Gutteriez II, Justin Hairston, Ian Nelson, Jose Rivera, Drew Rucks, Christopher Stewart, Trevor Swicegood, Frankie Tinsley and Jonathan Wilmoth.