Lightfoot presides over another eerie graduation ceremony for 88 new firefighter EMTs

“COVID-19 has changed everything in our city, including the way we celebrate important days like graduation,” the mayor said.

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Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Richard C. Ford issues the oath of office during the graduation ceremony for 34 CFD paramedics at Chicago Police Headquarters, Tuesday morning, March 31, 2020.

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Richard C. Ford issues the oath of office during a graduation ceremony March 31.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave a pep talk Tuesday to 88 new Chicago firefighter EMTs joining the city’s war against a virus that has “shined the light on the power and purpose of public service.”

Lightfoot and Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II presided over another eerie graduation ceremony at Chicago public safety headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., that has become standard fare during the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, police and fire graduations are joyous occasions with cheering family and friends filling the ballroom at Navy Pier and posing for pictures arm-in-arm with the mayor and commissioner.

The graduation Tuesday was another somber, candidates-only affair. Firefighter EMTs were once again seated at least 6 feet apart, maintaining social distance. They accepted their certificates wearing Chicago Fire Department face masks and exchanged elbow bumps, instead of handshakes, with Lightfoot and Ford.

The mayor and commissioner were also wearing face masks, except when they spoke to the graduates.

“This is not an ordinary graduation — obviously. But these aren’t ordinary times. COVID-19 has changed everything in our city, including the way we celebrate important days like graduation,” the mayor said.

“As all-consuming as our current crisis is, we will get through this and life will go on. We already are.”

The graduating class included 14 former Chicago Police officers, 16 military veterans and 26 graduates of Chicago Public Schools. The class is 43% minority and 8% female.

Lightfoot thanked them all for answering the call to serve Chicago at an extraordinary time of need that has “shined the light on the power and purpose of public service.”

“Some of you know people who have been deeply affected by COVID-19. Some of you — even in this room — have had loved ones who have passed away. This is hard. It’s the challenge of our lifetime. No one living today has gone through anything like this — a pandemic that is global in scope and global in impact,” the mayor said.

“But we will survive because of the bravery of people like you in this room. Because of the strength of you still answering the call to service even in these difficult times. ... We need you, and we are grateful to you. And we will always stand by your side. Thank you on behalf of a grateful city.”

Two Chicago firefighters have died from complications related to the coronavirus. More than 200 others have tested positive for the virus.

City Hall is paying a South Loop hotel $175 a night per room to set aside 274 rooms so police officers, firefighters and paramedics have a safe place to rest between shifts without worrying about bringing the virus home to their families.

“You never need to carry the burdens of the job alone. We will and continue to be there for you, just as you will be there for us,” Lightfoot said Tuesday.

“You have my word that, as you take your new assignments and begin this incredible journey, your city will be with you every step of the way — in training, equipment, but also in making sure that you recognize how much we value and need you. That is our obligation and responsibility to you. And that is your mission and our promise.”

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