Honoring the finest

February 21, 2012 09:07 pm

 

Chief John Brazil, white shirt, stands with members of the Harbor Fire Department. The Pilot/Steve Kadel
Chief John Brazil, white shirt, stands with members of the Harbor Fire Department. The Pilot/Steve Kadel
Capt. Carl Guenther was promoted to assistant chief Sunday, highlighting the Harbor Volunteer Fire and Rescue annual awards banquet.

Chief John Brazil made the announcement, then hugged Guenther as other firefighters, spouses and friends applauded. He credited the new assistant chief for “great leadership” skills and for responding to 1,030 calls since joining the force in 2005.

“We feel this is well deserved, based on all the effort Carl has put forward,” Brazil said.

 

Guenther, interviewed later, said he was “excited” by the step up but added, “There’s a lot of work ahead.”

He saluted Brazil, saying, “I have a great guy to work under.”

In addition to the promotion, Guenther won the Above and Beyond Award.

The event was held in Smith River where everyone enjoyed a lunch from Fabulous Food by Julie. Before the meal, firefighters and others lounged in the attractively landscaped backyard during the warm and sunny afternoon.

Among other awards handed out, Joe Miller was named Firefighter of the Year, Lt. Jake Campbell was named Officer of the Year,  Andrew Bailey and Mike Arnold earned Rookie of the Year honors, Dalena Bridgeford won the Most Improved category, and Thomas Sorrentino received the Medical Assist certificate.

The department, which is all volunteer, has 29 firefighters and two non-responders who provide support services. Harbor Volunteer Fire and Rescue was established in 1955 with members ranging in age from 14-year-old junior member Andy Bowers to 95-year-old Samuel Hall, a former circuit court judge and now an honory fire department member.

Brazil, the organization’s fourth chief, followed legendary chief Frank Kelley who logged 4,893 responses in a career that spanned almost 50 years.

“Chief Kelley made an incredible contribution to the community,” Brazil said.

He complimented the current fire personnel for selfless work on behalf of local residents, too.

“What we do for our communities is in our hearts,” Brazil said. “It’s a real help to the individuals and that’s the great thing about the volunteering we do.

“You all need to be very proud of what you offer. It’s pretty amazing and it’s because of your desire.”

The department responded to 265 calls last year, including structure fires, medical assists and other events. Harbor Fire has a mutual aid agreement with Brookings Fire and Rescue, which has two paid positions with the remainder volunteer posts.

It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week commitment for both departments. Patra Brazil, the chief’s wife and a non-responding member of the department, said everyone grows so close over time that Harbor Fire is like a family.

During his presentation, Brazil said 2011 was a positive year with no serious injuries to firefighters. Speed of response played a big part in saving structures.

“We had a couple of really good saves last year that in another few minutes would have been a much different situation,” he said.

Several firefighters said they enjoy the work because it’s exciting and is a good way to help their neighbors.

“I always wanted to do something for the community,” said Bailey, a former resident of England who now has U.S. citizenship. “The training and camaraderie is very professional.”

Bailey, currently studying to gain Emergency Medical Technician status, said every response is memorable.

“When you’re on the engine, your adrenaline is really rushing,” he said.

Bailey added that “we all have our lives and are busy” but the volunteers believe what they are doing is important enough to fit it into their schedules.

“I can’t believe how much time the volunteers give up,” said Tony Mathos, who has been a Harbor volunteer since November following 25 years as a paid firefighter in California.

Brazil said there’s a training meeting every Monday night, and volunteers must meet the same state certification requirements as paid firefighters do.

He’s proud that Harbor Fire maintains a Class IV public protection rating, the same as Brookings Fire and Rescue. It puts both departments in the top 20 percent in Oregon, and the high rating saves homeowners money on their insurance costs.

Brazil noted that events such as the annual awards banquet, with its excellent meal, are not paid from the small amount of tax money the fire district receives. The event is paid entirely through donations, he said, including money from the annual July pancake breakfast.

Sam Alaimo of Harbor, a member of the department’s Board of Directors, also attended the awards banquet. He said volunteers have a goal of responding to fires within six to eight minutes.

“It takes a big commitment to drop everything and be there quickly,” he said. “They contribute a lot.”