Each 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
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."
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
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
[By NILA SMITH]