When most people graduate, the next step at work usually involves desks or meetings.
Maybe a pencil-necked boss who complains. Maybe a necktie and shiny shoes.
But not the 19 people who graduated from the training class of the Rock Hill Fire Department on Friday.
None has a desk. The only shoes are boots. Every boss they will have started at the bottom, too, and still works fighting fires, and has a neck like a bull.
No graduate has anybody underneath them on the company ladder - and in this case the job really has ladders. Those ladders reach into windows that have smoke billowing out, and somebody inside screaming for help - if they can scream at all.
The job description is simple - save that screaming or silent stranger. Forget your loved ones, hide your fears, and climb that ladder into a burning building and bring somebody out alive.
Steve Loney was walking into Rock Hill's City Hall at the same time that the graduation was set to begin, for a different meeting. He said how proud he was of Bobby Oxendine Jr. a former co-worker and friend, who was graduating from fire training Friday.
"The rest of us are told in life to run out of a burning house," Loney said, "but these guys sign up to run inside that same burning building.
Of the 19 who graduated Friday, 15 came from Rock Hill Fire Department, two were from York's city department, one from Fort Mill, and one from Pleasant Valley in Lancaster County.
The 15 new recruits give Rock Hill 111 men and women in fire suppression now, and enable the city to open its sixth fire station adjacent to the Rock Hill-York County Airport.
The airport station was built at the same time as another station that opened last year, but in a financial move during the recession, the city waited a year to staff it until the recruits were hired and trained, said Mike Blackmon, city fire chief. That station, fully equipped and with a four-person crew, opens at 8 this morning.
Work for a paid firefighter in the city is 24-hour shifts every third day, weekends and holidays. The weather makes no difference.
Snow and ice means medical calls and car wrecks where a firefighter has to peel away steel and pull a person out so fast and carefully that the person might live to see their next birthday or Christmas.
But birthdays and Christmas do not matter for firefighters. They work if it is their shift.
It is the only job Laurin Landis, a 32-year-old woman and mother of a 4-year-old daughter named Grace, ever wanted. Landis was, and is, a volunteer firefighter in Lando in northeastern Chester County.
But she wanted more, so she applied to fight fires for a living.
Landis, one of two women in the class, got her wish Friday.
After 12 weeks of training, training that had 11 exams and eight skills evaluations and more than 100 miles of running and thousands of push-ups, Landis received a badge with her name on it.
That badge makes her the lowest of the low, the one who will wash trucks when not on calls.
It also makes her an equal among all firefighters when the bell rings and lives must be saved.
Like all graduates, Landis was assigned to a shift and a truck. She will be on Rock Hill's "C" shift, Engine 5. "C" shift's turn is today.
That means at 7 this morning, , she will feed and dress her daughter . She will hug her daughter and then kiss her daughter and say, "Mommy will see you tomorrow - I promise."
At 8 a.m., Laurin Landis will arrive at the Rock Hill station just east of the Rock Hill Galleria mall, and she will start her first shift as a paid firefighter.
She will have a turnout coat that says "Landis" on the back in reflective letters, and she will be expected to do anything anybody else does.
"I can't wait," said Landis.
At the graduation Landis' daughter, Grace, held up four fingers to show how old she is. She was asked what Mommy does for a living now.
"She makes everybody feel better," said little Grace, in what had to be the most powerful statement ever said about a firefighter.