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Chester Firefighters honored during annual banquet

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By Brian Garner

The firefighters of the City of Chester Fire Department, their family members and guests gathered at the Annual Firefighter’s Banquet Saturday night to recognize and to celebrate the important work they do.

Chester Fire Chief Paul Caldwell said in his opening remarks the tradition of an annual firefighter’s banquet has been around long before he was chief.

“I think it’s an important tradition to uphold, and I’m glad to see everyone wandering around and communicating with everyone. A firefighter’s banquet is a chance for us to recognize the efforts of all our staff and employees within the department, and it’s also a chance for us to see some of the retirees who built this department into what it is and it is a chance to thank some of the people in government positions who support us in what we do.”

Chief Caldwell then recognized the line-of-duty deaths that occurred in 2016 with a moment of silence. According to national statistics in 2016, there were 90 firefighters who died in the line of duty.

“Every month we have a fire training drill, with all of our firefighters, part-time and full-time, and I read the list of the names of those who have died in the line of duty, how old they were, how many years of service, and what the cause of death was. I do that not only to recognize and honor these people who have sacrificed their lives, but also to drive home the point that any time, any day on this job, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how many years of service you have, or what you were doing on any particular scene, the incident could be your last run. That’s a scary thing to think about, but that’s part of our job and part of something you have to be realistic about. It’s also why we train so diligently and try to be focused in what we do,” Caldwell said.

Later in the evening, Caldwell called for another moment of silence in honor of firefighter Adam Swygart, “Swag,” who lost his life in a vehicle accident earlier last year.

“Adam was in his early 20s, he’d been with our department a few years, had a very bright future ahead of him. We loved that guy. He was planning on making some kind of career in emergency service, he did an internship with us and he had just graduated from USC-Lancaster. I ask you to keep his parents, Jeff and Melinda Swygart, and his sister, Logan Stewart, in your prayers; I know they had a tough holiday season. Adam’s birthday was right around Christmas and they had to go through Christmas for the first time without him.

“The annual state firefighter association memorial service will be in a couple of weeks and they’ll recognize him with a plaque there, which we will presented to his parents,” Caldwell said.

He also asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of former Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, who founded the Chester County Rescue Squad and was a supporter of the fire service.

Moving on to the purpose of the night, Chief Caldwell said, “For me, tonight is all about fellowship. The fire service is a different organization and a different occupation than anything you’ll ever be involved with. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood. There’s a connection that goes on between firefighters and their families,” he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of new young recruits and tried to share that with them, and if they don’t have that feeling in their hearts, that compassion and that sense of belonging to the fire service and to a brotherhood, that it means something more than just clocking in to a job, then they’re in the wrong place and the wrong occupation. These guy’s lives and these women’s lives get so intertwined, because they do work 24/7. It’s a home away from home, and while it’s a job, it’s also a way of life,” he said.

Caldwell then introduced the retirees from the fire department, his staff and the firefighters of Shifts 1, 2 and 3. He recognized and expressed words of appreciation to the “three-headed monster” that governs the department, the city leadership, including members of Chester City Council, the Chester Fire District Commission board and Chester County leadership.

Caldwell expressed appreciation to the friends and families of the firefighters who make up the department.

“Without the family support to a firefighter, I can promise you, it would be extremely difficult. To all of the families, the wives, the moms, the girlfriends who see the firefighters get up and leave a dinner or break a date or whatever, to rush off to a fire, thank you for letting them do what they do and the sacrifices you make,” he said.

Caldwell reported on the year just ending, the department answered 1,160 calls.

“First time we broke 1,000 in a year. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, but it does means we’re out there serving our public and we are needed,” he said.

“We did have one of those major fires last year that goes down in the history books and people say ‘remember that one?’ I’m talking about Chester Cove; that was on the back end of a fully-involved structure fire that we had just finished fighting, so that was a long, interesting night. I thought we did extremely well with that…it was fully involved, with fire coming out of the roof when we got there,” he said. “We had a great effort on that.”

Chief Caldwell then presented the following awards:

Years of Service Pins

James "JP" McNeil- 5 years

Lawrence Naniot-10 years

Timothy Rogers-10 years

Micheal Waits- 10 years

Donny Davis- 15 years

Bobby Bass- 20 years

Billy Brakefield- 20 years

 

Most Attended Alert Calls

Full Time: James "JP" McNeil

Part Time: Richard Benson

 

Caldwell and Fire Marshal Don Wood were also honored. Caldwell received an award for Superior Leadership and Wood received an award for Outstanding Leadership.

When department administrative assistant Ve-Veca Torrence presented the award to Caldwell, she told him, speaking for the department, “You’re always making a difference. It’s not about just one day, but seven days a week. You said you’re not always on every fire scene, but you’re there in heart and in spirit and we can always count on you, no matter what. We appreciate you. That’s what good leaders do – they make a difference and you have made a difference in our lives.”

Torrence told Wood, “You are absolutely outstanding. We all depend on you and we are grateful to have you and we understand that we all couldn’t do what we do without you,” she said.

Part Time Firefighter Richard “Ricky” Benson was named Part Time Firefighter of the Year and Lt. Riley Cloud, who among other duties is the Fire Prevention Safety officer, was awarded Full Time Firefighter of the Year.

When he accepted the award, Cloud said, “I really appreciate this a lot. It means a lot to me and I wanted to thank every one that voted for me to get this award. I really appreciate it.”