The coronavirus has changed the world irrevocably since Class 197 entered the Fire Academy more than nine months ago, and those changes were reflected in the cadets’ unusual graduation on Monday.

The 64 class members from the Philadelphia, Upper Darby and Chester fire departments wore face masks during the ceremony, which was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. They sat outdoors at the Academy on chairs spaced several feet apart for social distancing purposes.

And there was no audience to congratulate them; friends and family watched the event online.

Deputy Chief Girten Allerton, director of the Fire Academy, thanked Class 197 for choosing public service “in these extraordinary times and extraordinary circumstances.”

“Today you have earned the honor and privilege of wearing the firefighter’s badge,” Allerton said. “But with that badge comes a heavy burden … you have pledged to respond when people are in the middle of the worst moments of their lives, and they are depending on you.”

Though many educational institutions went online during the virus outbreak, that was not an option for the Academy’s hands-on teaching style.

Cadets received training in fire suppression and fire dynamics; hazardous materials awareness; and fire- and life-safety education. They also became certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), qualifying them to provide basic emergency medical care.

“The nine months here is challenging enough without having to deal with a pandemic,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel. “There is no more dedicated workforce – dedicated to service 24x7x365 – than the almost 3,000 women and men of the Philadelphia Fire Department.”

New Firefighter/EMT John Trainer, the Class 197 spokesperson, thanked Academy instructors for their dedication to ensuring the class embodied three vital qualities: respect, family and professionalism.

“I consider myself lucky to have been associated with such a strong group of men and women who all have the same mission at heart – to serve others,” Trainer said.

The Philadelphia cadets are joining one of the busiest fire/EMS systems in the nation. Every day, the PFD responds to about 7 severe fires and more than 750 EMS incidents. Last year, the department handled over 374,000 calls to 911; 274,000 EMS incidents; and 49,000 fire incidents.