For the past 10 years, the McDuffie County Fire Department has had an annual recognition dinner, and Chief Bruce Tanner said there was more to recognize this year than ever before.
"It's been our busiest year ever," the Chief said, noting that the department has responded to 759 calls so far this year, which is more than two times the number last year.
While the number of calls has increased, the response time has decreased. Chief Tanner said the average response time is 8.7 minutes, which is down one full minute from last year's average.
The McDuffie County Firefighter of the Year Award was presented to Ron May.
"A lot more of y'all deserve this more than I do," Mr. May said as he accepted the award.
Mr. May joined the department in July, 1999, and became a part-time paid employee in July, 2004. He has completed his Firefighter 1 Certification and First Responder Certification, and training classes in pressurized container fire control, Georgia Emergency Management Agency Rescue Specialist, GEMA Crash Victim Extrication, GEMA Hazardous-Material Awareness and National Incident Management System training.
"He has earned the respect of his colleagues," Chief Tanner said. "He is an easy person to like. He's a terrific father and a family man."
Special recognition was given to Herman McTier and his family for supplying automobiles for extraction training, Dr. Allen Smith as the medical director of the First Responder and Auto External Defibrillator programs, and to Ernest Quattlebaum who cooks for the banquet every year.
Firefighters who received recognition were: Jerry Fullwood, Chris Sanders and Terence Favors for completing 156 hours of National Professional Qualification Firefighter Training, Judson Story for completing 80 hours of Arson Investigation, and to Competition Team Members Michael Crosby, Steve Parish, Jerry Fullwood, Steven Parish, Bobby Stanley, Jason Burnley, Austin Reynolds and Stephen Sewell who took first place at the Fire Fest 2006 Firefighter's Muster held in Evans on Oct. 28.
"The competition team went to Columbia County and kicked butt," Chief Tanner said with a smile. "They finished first place over all. The only problem is now you've got to back it up, fellas."
Also recognized were members of the county's new cadet program. The program trains youth ages 13 to 17 to become a firefighter under the tutelage of a mentor in the department. One cadet, Austin Reynolds, competed with the winning team at the Firefighter's Muster.
Service awards noted were: five years to Phillip Burton and Sammy McNair, 10 years to Kay Lord, 25 years to Bracton Ivey and George Scouten, 30 years to Marvin Dunn, George Holliman, Ricky Luke and Dennis Washington.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton then complimented the department on a "positive year," and recognized the volunteers.
"As we go toward a paid service, we were concerned we would lose our volunteers," he said. "But their numbers are growing along with the paid service, and that's tremendous. They are the backbone of our service."
McDuffie County has had one death this year as the result of a fire. This fact weighs heavily on Chief Tanner's heart and mind, as he told the firefighters "that is one death too many." The Chief said he has made it a priority to have the firefighters out in the community, educating citizens on fire safety.
"It is our commission this year to not to have to leave the station," he said. "If we don't have to leave the station, then it's a good day... If we have to leave, then somebody's not having a good day... (The public) trusts us in one of the most vulnerable times of their lives... Every day that tone goes off, we've got to do whatever it takes to earn that trust... I trust all of you, and I want to tell you personally from the bottom of my heart that I appreciate what y'all do."