WINNSBORO — The mood was celebratory, if a bit bittersweet, as area firefighters and rescue squad members turned out April 15 for their annual appreciation dinner.
Fire Department and Rescue Squad Volunteers of the Year were among those recognized for their service. Of those volunteers, Sarah Lee (Mitford), Betsy Quarles (Southeast) and Jamie Webb (Ridgeway) had perfect attendance for all 11 training session held last year.
Volunteers of the Year per station were:
Steve Manning, Community
Cody Branham, Greenbrier
Charles Lee, Mitford
Hampton Belton, Southeast
Greer Adams, Ridgeway
The entire staff of Dutchman’s Creek Station
Jay Joiner, Lebanon
Chuck Lewis, Feasterville
Jay Joiner for Rescue Squad
Two veteran firefighters received awards for the numbers of hours of training they had achieved.
Skip Buchanan was honored by the Fairfield County Chiefs association for receiving over 10,000 hours of fire training.
His presenter, Greg Gerber, mentioned Buchanan’s’s dedication and commitment to his family and to his brother and sister firefighters in that room, nearly all of whom he trained at one time or another.
Gerber also was recognized for 5,000 hours of fire training and instruction.
“They have done a lot of teaching (as a result of that training) and we are lucky to have both of them,” said Tony Hill, Fairfield County fire marshal. “We have seen a 100 percent improvement in training since Greg came on to coordinate training.”
The highlight of the evening was when Sammie Castles presented Firefighter of the Year posthumously to Chief Brian Keith Hudson. The chief of the fire department in Blackstock, Hudson died last year after serving over 20 years in fire service. Hudson’s family plus the members of the Blackstock Fire Department came forward to receive the award in his honor.
Keith Hudson was not the only Hudson recognized posthumously. Hill struggled to maintain his composure as he spoke of the late Roy Hudson, a mentor and a volunteer fireman of 70 years, who was honored the week before with a fireman funeral complete with an American Flag hanging from a firetruck ladder over Palmer Street — per Hudson’s request.
Those two men’s examples served to inspire high school students in attendance. Members in the junior firefighters program, they are working to complete the two-year program that enables them to be job ready upon graduation. Crew members who are 16 or above can take classes toward the beginner firefighters designation via this volunteer program.
“We change out cylinders, stock rest areas, help with rehab centers and maintain equipment,” said student Jenna Cagle, who comes from a family of volunteer firefighters.
Rep. MaryGail Douglas attended the event, something keynote speaker State Fire Marshal Shane Ray made note of during his remarks. According to Ray, 59 percent of the fire service in South Carolina consists of volunteers with about 7 percent as full career firefighters and other areas having a combination system using the two.
He praised the 11 stations in Fairfield County, touting resources and examples that can apply throughout the state.
He spoke of ways the fire service is working with veteran firefighters so they can earn certifications and receive credits for some areas by virtue of years of experience. Ray spoke of the dangers in fighting residential detached side family dwelling fires.
He noted that people have so many more goods in houses now than 40 years ago, so that makes fires burn hotter and longer. Ray thanked the volunteers for a willingness to change with the times and keep their training as up-t0-date as possible and pledged that his office would be steadfast in its support of the volunteers in Fairfield County.
County Administrator Phil Hinely and County Council Chairman David Ferguson each thanked the firefighters and rescue squad members for the countless hours they dedicate to their community.