Lt. Chip Bentley prepared himself early in life to become a career firefighter. Today, he's regarded as one of the best firefighters on staff with the City of Thomson Fire Department.
During the city's annual fire department banquet held at the Thomson Depot last Saturday night, Lt. Bentley was chosen as "Firefighter of The Year."
"I wasn't expecting such an honor," said the 39-year-old Lt. Bentley during an interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "I was a little shocked."
After receiving the prestigious award from Deputy Fire Chief Johnny Crawley, Lt. Bentley proudly posed for photographs with Thomson Fire Chief Rick Sewell.
"He is very deserving to have received this honor," said Chief Sewell. "He's always been a very, very dedicated firefighter since joining our department in 1998. We're very fortunate to have him on our department."
Lt. Bentley began his firefighting career at the age of 16. At the time, he was attending Washington-Wilkes High School and had joined the Washington Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. His father, W.C. Bentley, was serving there at the time as a firefighter, too. The elder Mr. Bentley ended up spending 28 years with the fire department. Today, he works as a paramedic with the St. Mary's Hospital Ambulance Service in Athens.
"I guess you could say that firefighting just runs in the blood of our family, said Lt. Bentley, noting that two of his sisters serve as volunteer firefighters in Rayle and Tignal. "It basically was something that just grew on me. I followed my dad's footsteps, you could say."
Lt. Bentley, a 1988 graduate of Washington-Wilkes High School, first joined the Thomson Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. Two years later, he was hired fulltime and rose to the rank of a supervisor within a short period of time. He now has a total of 21 years experience as a firefighter.
In addition to being a state certified firefighter and engineer of the city's new ladder truck, Lt. Bentley also is a certified intermediate EMT. He, like fellow firefighters, responds to medical calls, as well as other emergencies, too.
"You never know what's going to happen," said Lt. Bentley. "Every call is different."
Helping people is what he enjoys most in his life, aside from spending time with his wife, Nicci, and their two daughters, Danielle, 8, a third grader at Thomson Elementary School and Aubrey, 5, a pre-school student at J.A. Maxwell Elementary School.
Lt. Bentley said his children were "thrilled" about his being named "Firefighter of The Year."
"They had to hold the firefighter trophy and look at it," said Lt. Bentley. "Like me, I think they felt proud, too."
Lt. Bentley isn't far away when it comes time to helping in the community -- whether in an emergency situation or as a community-minded resident.
During the past several years, he has aided fellow city employees in personal tragedies and been most active in helping raise money for the City of Thomson Relay for Life -- the proceeds of which go to the American Cancer Society. He also has participated in many cookouts that have helped raise money for various individuals needing it, including children.
"He genuinely cares about people," said Chief Sewell.
Lt. Bentley considers helping people the biggest thing about his job.
"I enjoy helping people any way I possibly can," said Lt. Bentley. "It makes me feel good to help anybody. As a firefighter, it's very satisfying to help save lives and property."
He said he considers it a privilege to be a part of the Thomson Fire Department.
"I enjoy my job very much," said Lt. Bentley.
He and his family are members of First Baptist Church of Thomson.