June 16--TAHLEQUAH -- Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons' role hasn't stopped him from grabbing a hose or ax and going to work alongside other firefighters when help is needed.
He's always easy to spot at the scene of an emergency -- a two-way radio in one hand and, when necessary, his white chief's helmet atop his head, often tilted ever-so-slightly to the front and side as he paces back and forth, surveying the situation.
Hammons is also first in line to brag about firefighters who serve in the Tahlequah Fire Department, but a state honor bestowed upon him this month has given others the chance to tout Hammons.
Hammons was surprised when he received the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association David Bain Award. He became only the sixth person in the state and the first from Tahlequah to receive the honor named after the late Bain, a former Midwest City firefighter who served as a director of administration and as a past president for the OSFA.
"We have to have someone certainly deserving of the award," said Penny Soldan, of the state firefighters association.
The OSFA executive board examines nominations for the David Bain Award. The honor isn't given out yearly, but instead is presented only when and if a nominee meets the criteria. Though Hammons was the only recipient this year, he wasn't the only nominee, Soldan said.
"It's a very prestigious award," said Soldan. "If you look at the qualifications, they include someone who has provided service both to their community and to the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, and who possesses attributes that coincide with involvement in youth programs through church, school or the community. Nominees must be a role model for other leaders and have been proven to be a person of courage and impeccable character."
Hammons' road to his current post began in the late 1980s, when he worked in the city's parks department along with Kevin Smith, who is now the assistant city administrator.
"I had known Ray for a long time," said Smith. "I was on the fire department, and I knew he would be a good candidate for that role. He joined the department, started out at the bottom and worked his way up."
Hammons became a volunteer firefighter Jan. 7, 1990, and was promoted to full-time in 1994. He had a desire to learn more about the trucks he was operating and the profession as a whole, so he approached Mitch Parnell, who lived in Cherokee County, volunteered for the Welling Fire Department, and worked full-time at the Tulsa Fire Department.
"Ray wanted to know more and so he called me up," said Parnell, who retired as a Tulsa captain after more than 30 years. "He was wanting specialized information, and he didn't want it just out of a book -- he wanted it from someone who was actually doing it every day. I spent several days down there with him, going over the trucks. It didn't take him very long at all to figure out the job. We ended up learning a lot together."
The authors of the nomination letter that was submitted to the OSFA said Hammons "demonstrated immense courage and forethought" when he organized the first firefighters union in Tahlequah. He was later elected as the first president in the local union.
Hammons has also served in various roles with the state firefighters association, sitting on the legislative board, the health and safety committee, and serving in elected positions, including as president. He often worked at the state level alongside Parnell, who recalls Hammons being a "straight-shooter."
"He'll tell you exactly what's on his mind," said Parnell. "If I could sum up Ray in one word, it's loyalty. He's very loyal. There were some tough things that came down over the years that we had to deal with as firefighters and through the OSFA, and you've got to have friends that will help you through. He helped me a bunch, and I hope I helped him."
Cherokee County 911 Coordinator and Gideon Fire Chief Marty Kimble said Hammons' efforts at the local and state level not only benefited the Tahlequah department, but improved volunteer departments.