Commitment, integrity, determination, and bravery are just some of the words that can be used to describe the 2014 graduates of the College of the Mainland (COM) Fire Academy, recently honored at a commencement ceremony held Friday, May 9. 

Standing out among the graduates was John M. Gonzales, class president and recipient of the President's Award, High Class Average Award, and Top Rung Award. 

It is only the second time a cadet has received all three awards. 

"The Top Rung Award is our highest award, [given] to the individual that performs at an exceptional level in all areas: classroom, physical skills and leadership," explained Fire Academy Director Danny McLerran. "Gonzales was the class president; he had the highest average in the class, and he is the married father of four small children.

"He is a true leader."

Also recognized with the Instructors' Awards were Charles Barkmann and William Oliver. 

"Barkmann was sponsored by the Texas City Fire Department," McLerran explained. "He was hired as an EMT-1 and was sent to us to complete his firefighter training. 

"He was a solid performer in all areas, as was Oliver, and that's what stood out."

And as McLerran can attest, standing out in this crowd is a hard thing to do.

With a curriculum based upon the Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) Basic Fire Suppression Curriculum Manual, and taught by career firefighters, the 24-credit hour, semester-long program includes classroom lectures and activities, hands-on firefighting skills and physical education training. 

After successfully completing the academy, students are eligible to take the TCFP's Fire Suppression examination, and upon passing the exam, apply for Basic Fire Suppression certification pending completion of an approved medical first responder course.

COM graduates have achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the state certifications for several continuous years.

"I'm proud to say we have one of the best programs and some of the best students," McLerran added.

For additional information regarding COM's Fire Academy, visit