By Dedra Cordle
Jackson Township Fire Chief Randy Little says one of his favorite traditions within the department is its annual awards ceremony where those who have demonstrated exemplary service throughout the year are celebrated and honored.
“We have so many deserving men and women in this department and recognizing all the things that they do, all of the sacrifices they make, is one of the most important things we can do,” he said.
He said overseeing the ceremony makes him feel like a proud father – “a much younger and handsomer dad,” he quipped – which is why these past two years have been so challenging for him personally.
Due to limitations on public gatherings caused by the pandemic, the department has had to shelve its awards ceremony. Though fire officials say members of the department have continued to demonstrate exemplary service within their units and throughout the community, they were not able to be “properly recognized” for their contributions and the impact they have made.
“These past two years have been difficult for many reasons,” said Little. “For our department to not be able to host this ceremony was just one of the number of difficulties.”
Recently, however, the department was finally able to celebrate the return of the ceremony and the accomplishments of its members publicly.
On May 5, hundreds of employees of the department, their families and members of the community gathered at Station 202 on Hoover Road to attend the division of fire’s annual awards ceremony. In addition to swearing in 19 full-time firefighters and promoting five to the rank of lieutenant, they also honored those who went “above and beyond” the call of duty.
According to Little, the most coveted awards of the annual event are the Firefighter of the Year and the Officer of the Year.
“These are not awards that are selected by me and (Deputy Fire Chief) Shawn Quincel,” said Little. “These awards are where the nominees are nominated by their peers and the commanding officers within their unit, and then are chosen by their peers and commanding officers.
“If you receive these awards – and we have so many men and women who are truly deserving of these awards – it means you are doing something right in the department and outside in the community.”
Because of the two-year pandemic pause, the department named four recipients of these distinguished awards. The recipients of the 2020 Officer and Firefighter of the Year went to Capt. Dan Tilley and the newly promoted Lt. Dan Levesque, respectively, and the recipients of the 2021 Officer and Firefighter of the Year went to Lt. Mark Flowers and Christopher Fraley, respectively.
Both Levesque and Fraley were nominated by Flowers, who has gained a reputation as a prolific writer of recommendations.
“We can always count on receiving a letter from Mark when it comes time for awards,” said Little.
In his nomination letters, Flowers said Levesque and Fraley were deserving of their awards as both have demonstrated a dogged commitment to the department and to the public.
He mentioned Levesque volunteering his time “running logistics for the department” and frequently catching him restocking items late at night for the betterment of the department.
“Dan demonstrates responsibility, dedication, organization, and passion.”
Fraley, he wrote, was someone who takes pride in his job and shows a constant concern for others.
Flowers recalled an incident last year where Fraley sat by the bedside of an ill patient for hours while waiting for the arrival of their family so they would not be alone.
“This was a request that Chris didn’t have to do, but did so because he cares,” said Flowers. “These types of actions is what sets JTFD above others.”
Levesque, who has been with the department for 17 years, said he was honored to have received the 2020 award.
“I love my job,” he said. “I love serving the public, being able to help people on what is, a lot of times, their worst day, and I love being around a great group of people who feel the same way about that as I do.”
Fraley, a 10-year veteran of the department, said he was devoid of words for having received the 2021 Firefighter of the Year Award.
“I don’t even know what to say,” he said. “I’m honored and I’m humbled. I work with so many guys I look at and think are so much smarter and way better at their job than I am.”
He said the reason he received the award was because of them.
“I have learned so much from them. They make me a better firefighter.”
Tilley and Flowers were nominated for Officer of the Year by firefighters Greg Richards and Greg Rudduck.
Richards said Tilley was worthy of the award because of the concern and care he shows for the health and safety of his crew, while Rudduck said Flowers was worthy of the award because he is a “fantastic example of what I believe a lieutenant should be.”
“Lt. Flowers is an outstanding example of caring for his people,” he wrote. “He takes firefighter development personally. Each and every day, Lt. Flowers finds a way to train and develop the firefighters in his command.”
Tilley, a 26-year veteran of the department, said he was “honored and humbled” to have been chosen as the 2020 Officer of the Year.
“It was great that I even received a nomination because receiving that nomination means I made a difference in someone’s career,” he said. “And that just means so much to me.”
Flowers, a 27-year veteran of the department, also said his selection as the 2021 Officer of the Year was humbling.
“I honestly never expected it,” he said. “We have a lot of good officers here and for me to be selected out of all of them is just very humbling.”
He credits “all of the people within the department” for his efficiency as an officer and employee.
“They make me look good,” he said.
Others receiving recognition at the ceremony include Richard Eisel, who took home the Meritorious Service Award; Flowers and Battalion Chief Jim Parmenter, who took home the Chief D.H. Reese Safety Award; and Lt. Robert Schneider who was named the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. The department also honored community members Michael and Jacob Glaze with the Outstanding Public Safety award and recognized the responding department crew. Michael and Jacob Glaze dove into a retention pond in March when they noticed a vehicle submerged in the water. They kept the driver’s head in an air pocket while waiting for the responding crew to arrive. The driver survived because of their actions.