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Banquet honors firefighters

Area firefighters with the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) were honored during a banquet Saturday at the Farmville Municipal Golf Course.

The event included a keynote address by Richmond Fire Department Chief Melvin Carter, a report of the year by FVFD Chief Dean Farmer and awards granted to firefighters that range from honoring firefighters with decades of service to those voted best firefighters from members of the community and Firefighter of the Year.

Carter, during the keynote, spoke about the themes surrounding the FVFD’s mission statement, which reads, “Through professionalism, dedication, integrity and training, the Farmville Fire Department will work to safeguard the lives and property and enhance the quality of life of the people in our community. This will be accomplished by providing a vast range of emergency services, strong public relations and fire safety education.”

Focusing on the themes of professionalism, dedication, integrity and training, Carter said firefighters can be the backbone of a community, noting they are often who is first called in the event of an emergency.

“Farmville (Volunteer Fire Department) is your community safety net,” Carter said. “You are the tip of the spear to help with your citizens. I don’t need to tell you what’s going on in our world today, in our communities, and the first phone call that people make when they’re in dire need is what? 911.”

“Oftentimes that’s you,” Carter said, addressing firefighters, “and your apparatus and the men and women in your organization. You are the help and the reassurance that’s on the way, and for most people, you are the gateway to help.”

He encouraged area firefighters to be intentional about displaying professionalism, dedication and integrity in their service.

“It’s not just you,” Carter said, noting that one member’s lapse of judgment could affect public perception of firefighters. “It’s the broader fire service that you are representing.”

He noted that the U.S. has approximately 1.1 million firefighters who serve communities, with approximately 336,000 acting as career firefighters and approximately 812,000 acting as volunteers. Carter said between 80-100 are estimated to die annually in the line of service.

He also encouraged continuing training, noting that he is continuing his education to better serve Richmond.

He encouraged firefighters to take pride in their work, noting that the Farmville Fire Department was established in 1870, 147 years ago.

“This faith and understanding from the community is no accident,” Carter said. “It’s delivered through your professionalism, your dedication, your integrity and all of your training. So I and we want to celebrate you, Farmville Fire Department.”

Following the keynote, Dean Farmer offered a report of the 2017 year at the department.

He said that the fire department dedicated 2,133 hours to training area firefighters. Farmer also reported that the department received 434 total calls for service, which have included 34 calls for structural incidents, 108 rescue incidents, 31 hazardous materials incidents, 29 additional calls for service, 122 good intent calls, 61 false alarms and 18 special incidents.

He said this was a nine percent increase in calls from the previous year.

“We dedicated 3,000 hours to fire incidents alone,” Farmer said. “This dedication from the members is one of the highest on record, and the numbers continue to climb.”

He said all of the firefighters have been certified to a Firefighter 1 standard, and the department will receive its newest apparatus in January. He added that the department adopted a cancer prevention program to remove exposure and decontaminate department members to chemicals associated with the profession. He also mentioned receiving the Director’s Award from the U.S. Secret Service for the department’s work in the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate, which Farmer said is one of the most prestigious awards a department can receive.

“The young men and women that you see here tonight are the reason why it is possible,” Farmer said.

He said for 2018, the department will prioritize expanding the department’s training center and  partnering with other public service agencies including area fire, EMS and law enforcement organizations around the area.

“I feel that we should all stand together with one voice,” Farmer said.

Those awarded during the ceremony included Lieutenant Travis Finch, who was awarded Firefighter of the Year.

“This individual not only dedicated their time in emergency incidents but participated in every training event and fundraiser this year,” Farmer said of Finch when presenting the award. “If I ever call upon him for anything I receive one response: ‘I’m on the way.’”

Parliamentarian Ernest Ross was asked to accept the Outstanding Dedication Award for Jerry Stuart, who could not make the ceremony due to a family emergency.

Upon Ross sitting down, Farmer then offered him the Most Dedicated Firefighter award, which prompted a standing ovation from the audience.

“He’s always strived to serve in the community and assist with any function the department may have,” Farmer said of Ross’ service to the department. “I truly cherish his wisdom, his knowledge and his friendship.”

Lifetime Membership honors, which recognize firefighters with more than 15 years of service, were awarded to Gary Atkins, with 34 years of service, Tim McKay, with 20 years of service, and Harold Collins, with 17 years.

Milestone awards were also given to members who had served five, 10, 15, 20 or more years in the department. 

Ten firefighters were voted best area firefighters by members of the community. These included Noah Lovelady, with 88 calls, Sean Ryan and Patrick Easton tied at ninth with 99 calls, William Robertson was at eighth at 102, Aaron Waskiewicz was at seventh with 104 calls, Captain Antwann Evans was at sixth with 105, Julie Bailey was at fifth with 114 calls, Jonathan Connor was at fourth with 119 calls, David Mansueti was at third with 131 calls, First Lieutenant Ronald Schult was at second with 176 calls and Finch was at first with 256 calls.