Guy Smith named SHFAD Firefighter of the Year; Jonathan Lemar Rookie of the Year

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Battalion Chief Guy Smith was named Firefighter of the Year at the department’s annual awards banquet, held Friday, March 25, at the Elks Lodge.

Other award winners were: Jonathan Lemar, Rookie of the Year; Eli Harris and Josh Starha, Rescue Technicians of the Year; Doug Emmert, Officer of the Year; Josh Bondesen, Medic of the Year; and Zach Lincoln, Employee of the Year.

Fellow Battalion Chief Eli Harris presented the Firefighter of the Year award by telling the crowd of 100-plus that Smith personifies “the summation of what firefighting entails.”

He cited several examples of how Smith has been a leader in recent firefighting efforts in a variety of circumstances, and Smith’s dependability in efforts ranging from rope and swift water rescues to wildland firefighting.

“He’s known for taking the role required and pushing it to the limit,” Harris said. “He’s been a leader for many years but he’s still a firefighter.”

Smith responded to the award by urging SHFAD personnel and volunteers to stay engaged.

“In all of our lives there are busy times and slower times, when you have to put the fire department on the back burner,” he said. “When our lives slow down, we need to give back a little more.”

Chief Dave Barringer and others emphasized the department’s community and its mission to serve the community at various times during the evening.

Keynote speaker Gene Mayfield, who was badly injured in a catastrophic collision between two trucks on Jan. 21 that led to the death of the other driver, Neil Nightingale, related how Sweet Home rescue workers contributed to his “miraculous” survival.

“You work as a team of professionals who were able to assess quickly the situation, to extract a man from a vehicle that was torn and shredded all around him,” said Mayfield, wearing a neck brace and speaking from a wheelchair.

He recalled a rescuer who “crawled up in the truck and looked into my eyes as blood poured down my forehead” and “laid her hand against my forehead to dam up the blood so I could see her eyes.

“And the most comforting words she stated so boldly: ‘Gene, can you see me? I have assessed the situation and I want you to know you’re going to be all right.’”

He noted that two helicopters arrived at the scene “within eight minutes of wheels down to wheels up” to get him and Nightingale to hospitals.

“This happened completely due to the professionalism of all of you. My life was spared. A family was brought together in a crisis.”

Mayfield said he believes “humility, to the point of vulnerability” is critical to people working together and he urged the audience to “truly look at what is motivating us to serve.”

“I have learned so much about this family of firefighters,” said Mayfield, whose wife Julie is the department’s administrative assistant. He said the “love of family” provides stability in life “and I believe this affects greatly your ability to serve.

“Knowing that you do not serve alone, you serve as a team, gives each of you the special ability to make things happen.”

He credited his survival to God, who “covered me with his protective hand,” adding that “God chose to use you, yes, He chose you, to save this man’s life.”

Mayfield urged the staffers to “come together as a team and get to know each other through humility to the point of vulnerability and sacrificial love. You will be able to experience a miracle. I can sit before you today and honestly say I am a miracle from God.”

Barringer reported that the department responded to 2,699 calls in 2015, of which 243 were fires, 71 traffic collisions, seven water rescues, 78 burn complaints, 169 public assists and 2,104 medical calls.

He introduced the department’s part-time EMT’s: Angelique Baggitt, Hayden Dellenbach, Ronnie Garcia, Alex Hauk, James Long, Corey Miles, Jeff Myers, Jacob Rose, Will Steinweg and JT Weld.

He singled out Jeff Myers and Will Steinweg for particular recognition.

He said Myers has been “amazing since the first day he got here” and has taken on “many responsibilities” beyond his normal job description, while Steinweg has served as an “unofficial fire marshal” for the community, developing firefighting plans for local properties via an online app.

“I drop all the fire marshal stuff on him that I don’t have time to do,” Barringer said.

Presenting the Rookie of the Year award, Harris noted Lemar’s progression through various certification – Firefighter 1, Firefighter Type 2 (wildland) and EMT basic, in addition to the hours of training he has put in.

In addition to the regular department awards, Volunteer John Marble of Station 23 in Crawfordsville presented Harris with special recognition for going above and beyond the normal call of duty at the scene of an early-morning wreck on Brush Creek Road.

Marble noted that when he arrived at the scene at 3:30 a.m., he discovered an empty car in a field “which is very common” in those types of scenarios. Investigating the area further, he discovered a woman with a head injury and took her back to the highway, where he met responding rescue personnel, including Harris.

Harris, he said, took off across a field in the pitch-black darkness and when Marble and others eventually went to look for Harris and reached him, they heard a voice in the darkness: “I’ve got the boy.”

“Here’s our guy, standing in the dark with a little boy wrapped around him, his legs wrapped around him,” Marble recounted. While Marble and the others took the youngster, Harris “took off again across the field again,” telling them “I’m going to get the other one.”

Marble noted that rescuing a young child is the ultimate for most firefighters as he presented the “Hound Dog Award” to Harris.

Bondesen presented another special award to Sweet Home Police officer Ryan Cummings, who on Dec. 26, 2015 performed CPR on a Foster resident, Neil Riley, who was also present Friday, after Riley suffered a heart attack.

Bondesen said Cummings “took it upon himself to respond” after arriving before medics at the scene, where Riley was prone on the ground. Cummings’ action kept Riley alive long enough for medics to get his heart beating again on the way to the hospital and saved his life.

Barringer presented Michael Hall with a Special Community Service Award for their community service, citing a recent donation of “several hundred dollars” in gift certificates to a Turkey Bingo event in which SHFAD was involved.

“He not only gives to us, but he gives to the community,” Barringer said. “He gives to the community all the time. This person never says ‘no.’ I’m always impressed with people who can do that.”

Lincoln presented Barringer with a semi-humorous Pride and Ownership award, prefacing the actual award with a gag gift – some baby wipes, for a purpose he didn’t elaborate on.

The actual award was recognition for “organizational and individual ownership,” Lincoln said.

“He does a great job of enabling us to help the organization,” Lincoln said. “He puts ownership on us.”

Wes Strubhar recognized volunteers who have progressed from cadet status during the past year: Jonathan Lemar, Charlie Guerrero, Logan Strubhar, Mark Taraski and Jarred Underwood. Newcomers to the cadet program were Noah Taraski and Nathan Powers, and new volunteers were Steven Wallace, Michaela Puentes, Brandon Webber and Dale White.

Randy Whitfield was recognized for completing 25 years with the department. Others recognized for tenure were: Bob Burger, 15 years; Chris Forum and James Seward, 10 years.

Harris, who also heads training for SHFAD, said the department’s 60 firefighters logged 4,008 hours of training last year – 67 per person.

Harris recognized Dave Trask for completing more than 140 hours and Lemar for 130.