Two new Beach firefighters, 27 years apart

Life as a pilot meant Stephen Mercer often had to leave his wife and children for large chunks of time. He decided in his mid-40s to embark on a new career, one that will let him serve his community and stay closer to his family: He’s becoming a firefighter.

Mercer, 47, is the oldest of 19 Virginia Beach Fire Department recruits who will graduate tonight at a ceremony at the Sandler Center. He said his age has not held him back physically.

Stephen Mercer, 47, is the oldest graduate of this year's firefighter recruiting class. (Courtesy of VBFD)
Stephen Mercer, 47, is the oldest graduate of this year’s firefighter recruiting class. (Courtesy of VBFD)

“I feel pride, that I can still do something like this at my age,” he said.

Mercer’s classmates include Jacob Pelletier, the youngest of the group at 20. He spent the last few years volunteering with the local rescue squad.

Jacob Pelletier, 20, is the youngest graduate of this year's firefighter recruiting class. (Courtesy of VBFD)
Jacob Pelletier, 20, is the youngest graduate of this year’s firefighter recruiting class. (Courtesy of VBFD)

“I grew up the youngest of three boys, so I’m used to trying to fit in with the older crowd,” Pelletier said.

Mercer and Pelletier both cited a strong desire to become a part of the department and its family atmosphere.

Mercer, Pelletier and the rest of Tidewater Regional Fire Academy Class No. 152 completed nine months of training in the field and classroom to become certified firefighters by the commonwealth of Virginia. Their preparation included nine days of live fire training, beach combat physical training, EMT training and a shift day that involves 24 straight hours at a station handling mock calls and drills. Each trainee completed more than 1,300 hours of training.

The 20-member class includes a firefighter who is headed to York County.

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