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Firefighters receive awards at banquet

The McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Service honored Lt. Chris McAlister as the firefighter of the year and firefighter Ron May as cadet of the year.

Those were among many awards presented Saturday at the annual banquet at First Baptist Church of Thomson.

May completed his firefighter training and joined the department as a regular firefighter this year.

McAlister, who lives in Appling, works at Station 6 on Stagecoach Road.

He told The McDuffie Mirror that he and several other present McDuffie County firefighters were part of the North Columbia Fire Department, which was dissolved about six years ago. "We were looking for a department to join that was relatively close," he said.

The firefighters "landed in the best place possible," he said. "We have been welcomed, supported and we have never been made to feel like we were from anywhere different."

McAlister said he and the others joined the right department. "Chief (Bruce) Tanner was a great help to us and brought us on board. He has been very gracious to us," McAlister said.

He said he was surprised by the honor. "I had absolutely no idea whatsoever," he said. "There were no clues, no hints."

"I was very honored to even be considered," he said. "I had witnessed the work of others in the department and always thought there was so much contribution from many others."

McAlister began his firefighting career in 2001 at the Appling station. He also works full time in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning field.

He said he is proud to be part of a growing department. "To be part of a regional training center for the fire academy is a huge honor," he said.

"We train many, many firefighters from around the area now."

"Our cadet program is fantastic," he said. "We're getting hold of a lot of young cadets who want to join the department. It's a lot like a baseball farm club system (that is) very well constructed."

In opening remarks, Tanner said the department answered an estimated 1,275 calls in the past year. The average daytime response time from tone-out to arrival was 10.36 minutes. The average number of responders to structure fires was 21.

The department boasts 65 volunteers and 13 part-time and full-time employees.

Tanner said the community deserves the best fire department, and the firefighters meet that need. He said the volunteers are essential to the department. He also acknowledged the support of the county commissioners and of the community in general.

He said challenges ahead include working with the Thomson Fire Department to improve the joint training facility. He said more stations are needed to improve the insurance rating.

He also gave special recognition to the military veterans who serve on the department.

Web posted on Thursday, November 10, 2011

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