By Cassidy Knowlton
Chomicki realized that dream Monday as she and 169 of her classmates at “The Rock,” otherwise known as the New York City Fire Academy, graduated at the Colden Center at Queens College in Flushing. They were to find out their assigned posts on Wednesday and begin their careers as firefighters sometime next week.Lt. David Hurley was the master of ceremonies, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Fire Chief Peter Hayden and chaplain Monsignor John Delendick addressed the packed auditorium and graduates. The valedictorian of Probationary Firefighter Class 2 of 2004, Thomas Gies, also spoke.Bloomberg's message to the graduates was one of pride and confidence mixed with caution for the danger they will face in post-Sept. 11 New York City. “You'll have an opportunity to shine and to show everyone why you're nicknamed the Bravest,” Bloomberg said. He admitted that “terrorism is an ever-present threat,” but “I feel confident urging New Yorkers to get on with their lives because of the FDNY.”He pointed to the bravery of the Fire Department at the barge explosion at Port Mobil, in dealing with a runaway train in Maspeth, at the accident on the Staten Island Ferry and, of course, during the collapse of the World Trade Center. “We've seen the FDNY do it again and again,” he said.Bloomberg told the crowd that some of the graduates in this class had lost family members in the World Trade Center disaster, and its valedictorian was one of those graduates. Gies said that after his father, also a firefighter, died on Sept. 11, he had doubts about joining the force. His grieving for his father came with fear for his own safety if he became a firefighter. He said he then came across a poem that calmed his fear and reassured him. In the poem “May They Be Not Forgotten,” an unknown poet tells a firefighter mourning the loss of a comrade that the deceased is watching out for him at all times. “In closets where young children hide/ You know I'll be there at your side./ The house from which I now respond/ Is overstaffed with heroes gone./ Men who answered one last bell/ did the job and did it well./ As firemen, we understand/ That death's a card dealt in our hand -/ A card we hope we never play, /But one we hold there anyway.”Gies said the poem helped him understand his father's sacrifice and assuage his own anxiety about the job.Chomicki's mother, Christina, says that she is afraid for her daughter's safety, but “somebody has to do it, and it's what she wants to do.” She displayed a small heart-shaped box that reads “My Heart's on Fire.”Chomicki says she understands the dangers, but she is not overly concerned for her safety. “You can't be afraid,” she said. “You just have to keep your head in the game.”Reach editorial intern Cassidy Knowlton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.