Monday, January 16, 2012
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Lincoln Rural Fire honors firefighters, especially volunteers

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[January 16, 2012]  Saturday evening the firefighters of the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District, along with their families, members of the Explorers group, friends of the firefighters and their board of trustees gathered at the station for their annual awards dinner. 

HardwareEach year the group gathers in January in lieu of a Christmas party. They enjoy mounds of good food, spend time relaxing as a group of friends and present some recognition awards to those who have done exceptional things for the department in the course of the year. 

After dinner and the awards, the party then moved on to Logan Lanes for an evening of bowling. 

As the night began, Chief Chad Letterle welcomed the group and asked for a moment of silence in honor of the 81 firefighters nationwide who lost their lives in 2011. 

Assistant Chief Nick Hanson delivered a prayer of blessing on the evening, and then a large crowd gathered around the buffet line for an excellent meal. 

After dinner, Letterle brought the group to order, saying it was time to give out some special awards.   

First to the podium was Lynn Haseley, the president of the board of trustees. The rural department is overseen by three trustees: Haseley, Frank Rickord and Bob Pharis. 

Haseley said he wanted to thank all the firefighters for their service and giving of their time to the department. He finished by saying, "On behalf of myself, Bob and Frank, I'd like to say we are extremely proud of this department." 

Explorer awards 

Firefighter Chris Buse and Adam Wessbecher were first to present awards, honoring two members of the Explorers group. The Explorers are high school age youth interested in firefighting. They participate in a variety of training exercises with the department, which gives them a head start on their careers should they continue in their interest. It also gives them the opportunity to see what the job is really about, helping them come to their final decision on whether it is something for them or not. 

Wessbecher presented the first award to the Rookie of the Year. He said this young man was quiet, one of the finest young people one would ever want to meet, always willing to jump in and do what needs done, and always asking what more he can do. Wessbecher introduced Steven Combs. 

The second award went to a young person whom Wessbecher characterized very similarly to Coombs, saying he too was quiet and always willing to do what is asked of him. Wessbecher said he was always the first one in and the last one to leave any event. He said the young man spends a lot of time at the department on his off days and has probably done the most ride-alongs of the year. Wessbecher introduced the Explorer of the Year, Nick Goff.  

The Buse/Becker Award and the Golden Hitch Award 

The next two awards were a tongue-in-cheek way of saying no matter how hard someone tries, once in a while things go wrong. 

Wessbecher and Buse stayed at the podium to hand out these awards. Wessbecher said the award is given for "unique driving skills."   

To preface the award, Wessbecher explained there had been a call for a rubbish fire south of town. The firefighter had been on the scene and realized it was time for his shift to start at another of his two jobs. He was told to take truck 7 and go back to town so he could get to his other job.   

When he got into town, Wessbecher said apparently the driver of the other vehicle couldn't see the big red truck and pulled out in front of him. 

The award, which was a photograph of the firefighter with truck 7, was given to volunteer firefighter Jacob Brady. 

Wessbecher then said that for this year, they were adding a new award, the Golden Hitch. The award was given to Luke Hanner, who had had an incident with a trailer and tailgate of one of the fire department trucks just that day. 

It was noted that the funniest part of it was that 24 hours prior, Hanner had been touting that he had made it through the year, and with only 24 hours to go, Brady was going to be the award winner. 

Volunteer Firefighter of the Year 

Capt. Dave Hurley was called to the podium to present the next award. With the awards taking a more serious turn, Hurley introduced the Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, Luke Hanner. 

Hurley said Hanner has been with the department about a year. He did well in his training, strives to learn everything he can possibly learn and is in-house on a daily basis. Hurley punctuated his statements by saying Hanner is a greatly appreciated addition to the department. 

As Hanner accepted his award, Letterle laughingly said this award was a little redemption for the last one. 

Firefighter of the Year and Rescue Members of the Year

Hanson, the assistant chief, gave out the next two awards. 

Hanson said it is ironic how things happen in the department. "We talk about something, and it happens," he said. 

He recalled a group talking on a particularly windy day last fall, hoping there were no field fires, but inevitably it happened. 

The department responded to a one-vehicle accident on Route 10. Hanson was in command that day, and instincts told him to send out the brush truck. When they arrived at the accident, the uninjured driver was out of the car, but the car was ablaze, and the fire was heading into a field of standing corn. Hanson said he made multiple calls for mutual aid during the fire, and in the end he had no real idea how many people were out there trying to kill the blaze. 

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In the midst of it all, he said he received a mayday call from one of his engines. Hanson said maydays are something the department trains for but hopes never happens. Chief Letterle was out of sight of Hanson, but the call was from him. The truck Letterle was in had stalled, and the fire was moving in close to him. 

Hanson said Trevor Matheny had been manning truck 7 that day, and his job was to be the eyes and ears of Hanson on the north side of the fire.   

Hanson said Matheny was getting the award for his excellent assistance to the department and himself. In the melee, this firefighter was able to get Letterle's truck started and away from the fire. Though the truck was damaged, it was not lost, and there was no loss of life. 

The Rescue Member of the Year award was given jointly to Hurley and Buse. 

Hanson said the two responded together when a call came in one day of a bicyclist injured. When they arrived at the scene, they found cyclist Brian Harmon lying at the side of the road with injuries. The firefighters assisted in Harmon's assessment, and he was transported to a Springfield Hospital via the Logan County Paramedics. 

Harmon was on hand for the presentation and said he was very thankful for the work of the fire department and the paramedics. He said one thing that struck him was when he was able to know what was going on, he wondered why he was in Springfield instead of Lincoln. 

He was told that the accurate assessment of his injuries determined that Springfield was the best location for him. 

Career Firefighter of the Year 

Letterle returned to the podium to announce the Career Firefighter of the Year, Assistant Chief Nick Hanson. 

Letterle went back to the field fire last year, recalling the incident as being a large event with a lot of departments involved. He said that as the officer in command, Hanson was an excellent leader, able to step up and take command in difficult situations. 

He recounted the number of units on hand, the fact one was in trouble, the need of the commander to be on top of all of it, and the blessing that although there was damage to vehicles, everyone went home that night. 

Letterle said Hanson displays what the department needs as an officer and a firefighter: someone who can step up and make the decisions. 

Everett Kennett Award 

The Everett Kennett Award is given in honor of former Chief Everett Kennett. Kennett retired from the department, then served on the board of trustees for the department. 

Letterle said the award is given to the volunteer who goes above and beyond to work for the department and promote the department to the public. 

This year's recipient does just that, he said, volunteering his time to the department not only for fire, but also to work in public relations, to file reports with media and to bring the department to the attention of the media. 

This last award of the night was given to volunteer firefighter Andy Anderson. 

As the evening wound down, Letterle said he wanted to recognize others who are involved with the department. 

He noted the presence of the city fire chief, Mark Miller, and his family and noted the good working relationship between the rural and city fire departments.

He offered thanks to the Logan County Paramedic Association and praised the working relationship the department has with the LCPA staff. 

He also acknowledged Logan County Coroner Bob Thomas, who is a department retiree, and thanked him for the good working relationship there as well. 

And finally, Letterle thanked the families of the firefighters. He noted that there are only six paid firefighters on the department. Everyone else is a volunteer, giving their time with the blessings of their families. 

Before everyone dispersed, Haseley returned to the podium, saying he was there as a citizen of Logan County who has experienced a home fire. He said he and his wife had experienced a fire in 2010 and the department was there. He said as a fire victim, it gave him a whole new perspective on the job they do. 

After the meeting wrapped up, Letterle said the evening was something the department enjoys doing, mainly for the volunteers.

"There are six of us who get paid to do this job, but the rest of them don't," he said. "This is our way of showing them they are appreciated and that we couldn't run the department without them." 




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