New Cleveland Heights says firefighters aren't just courageous when they sign up for the job. They show bravery every time they start a shift.
"I thought about all of the people that we've cared for over the years. People that we've saved and people who we couldn't save," said Freeman, 46, after his at Monday night. "It's so important to know what these guys go through every day. Even their families don't know because they don't talk about it."
That's what Freeman said he was thinking about while giving a speech at the ceremony. He stopped several times, overcome with emotion, and jokingly told his staff standing nearby to not remember that moment.
"My job is to support all of these fine (firefighters) so when they go out on the street and do their job, they have the equipment they need and the training they need," said Freeman, who has been with the Cleveland Heights department for 20 years. "I'm very proud of all of you guys, and I'm thrilled to be in this position. I know that a person is only as good as his team, and I have the best team that I could ever imagine."
Freeman is the eighth chief to serve in Cleveland Heights, which inducted its first chief in 1909.
Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelley said the evening was special for him as a mayor and because he is the son of a firefighter.
"As a child I remember the dedication and work ethic of my father," Kelley said. "The friendships that he formed, the times he would take us to visit him and actually go and slide down the pole at the firehouse, and above all, how very proud he always was to serve his community as a firefighter."
Kelley said fire chief swearing-in ceremonies used to be community, public events in the past, and the city reinstated that tradition Monday, Aug. 27.
Freeman took the oath from Cleveland Heights Law Director John Gibbon and received a badge from his wife, Dawn.
"I'm very proud of him," she said. "He's home every night now, so it's good for the boys."
They have four sons — Tyler, 18, Ben, 16, Logan, 14 and Ian, 11 — and live in Amherst. They were there to watch their father become chief, as was Freeman's brother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephew.
Freeman said he wants to get settled in before discussing possible new initiatives or plans, but he has a few goals, like improving training for firefighters.
"That's the most important thing we can do," he said.
He added that he wants to work even more closely with other cities, sharing services and ideas.
Though he just started, he knows his biggest challenges will be financial. The department has a budget of about $6.9 million, he said.
But he is confident in his team, which includes nearly 70 firefighters and other staff members who comprise the department.
"Every day these guys show up to roll call, they show courage," Freeman said. "They're helping people they've never met, and that they may never meet again, and they'll go to any length in the world. They'll risk their own lives."