It was a time to recognize and honor those who have contributed to the fire service during the opening ceremony Thursday of Firehouse Expo 2019 in Nashville, TN. Several awards were presented to groups and individuals who have given their time and talent to the vocations they love.
Longtime Firehouse contributor and retired FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka was inducted in to the Firehouse Hall of Fame, recognized for sharing his knowledge through writing and lecturing throughout the country and abroad.
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“Countless lives have been saved because of the firefighter survival training that John and his [colleagues] over the years have presented,” said Firehouse Editor-in-Chief and Conference Director Peter Mathews in his introduction of Salka to the firefighters gathered for the ceremony.
In his remarks, Salka focused on the importance of mentors and teachers who shaped his career and path in the fire service. He particularly recognized the late Harvey Eisner, a former editor in chief and conference director for Firehouse.
“I don’t think I’d be here today if were not for Harvey Eisner and, of course, everyone in this room knows who Harvey Eisner was,” Salka said.
He also acknowledged the importance of his family and their acceptance and encouragement of his role in the fire service.
“No one could achieve much without family,” Salka said, acknowledging that his wife and kids and a grandchild were in attendance for the ceremony, as well as several long-time friends.
“I’d like to think we’re all a little bit of the people who shaped and contributed to our careers, and I am no exception,” Salka said.
Salka offered a glimpse into his career which began as a volunteer with the Mineola Fire Department, on Long Island, NY, and included a stint in Titusville, FL, before culminating with the FDNY. He continues with his fire service activities as chief of the South Bloomington Grove, NY, Fire Department.
“I ended up as chief again there, and I am not sure exactly how that happened,” Salka said. He added that he enjoys his time with that department where he is “just one of the boys” and not the celebrity instructor.
“When I go there, they show me where the broom is,” he said.
Salka closed his remarks by reminding firefighters to remember who they are and where they came from and to be thankful for those who got them to whatever point they are in their career.
“The important point is, it was all of these people who made me who I am today,” Salka said. “And the same, I am sure, is true for you. Your mentors, your officers, your fellow firefighters are the people who influenced you and made you who you are today. So, I must say thank you to that large group of diverse firefighters, officers and chief and others who each added a little to the officer, chief and the man I am today. Thank you for this honor and remember to be thankful for your friends and family, every day.”
2018 Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor
The 2018 Award of Valor was presented to FDNY Firefighter Brian Foley, and the award’s namesake, retired Worcester, MA, Fire Department District Chief Mike McNamee, presented it. McNamee displayed great courage at the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire in December 1999 when he prevented additional deaths by stopping more firefighters from entering the building.
McNamee commented that he was “honored, and frankly humbled to have been asked to present this award, the Firehouse award of valor to FDNY’s Brian Foley.”
Foley was recognized for his service during a fire on the 29th floor of a 35-floor residential high-rise in New York City. He is credited with saving the lives of an unconscious male and a 4-year-old girl as well as assisting with the rescue of three others during that fire.
A humble Foley had few words when he got on stage to accept the award.
“I asked if they had a Haligan back stage because I’d feel more comfortable holding that,” Foley quipped. I want to thank … everyone from Firehouse. I want to thank my family for being here with me and congratulations to all the other award winners.”
2018 Firehouse Thomas Carr Community Service Award
The Burton, SC, Fire District and the Beaufort County, SC, School District were the winners of the Thomas Carr Community Service Award for 2018.
The award is named after Thomas Carr, the former fire chief in Montgomery County, MD, and Charleston, SC, and it is designed to recognize departments that give back and elevate a community in ways that can change lives.
Carr’s widow, Ann, said a few words recognizing her late husband’s contributions during the ceremony.
“As fire chief in these two major cities, Tom’s passion was to protect the citizens and firefighters from death and injury,” she said. “Tom focused on getting firefighters into the community to make a difference before the firefighters would be called into action.”
Ann Carr said this year’s award was presented to the creators of the JACOB Kit Program, designed to get equipment and knowledge into the hands of people who can make a difference in mass casualty and shooting events.
Carr said the program was named after Jacob Hall, a 6-year-old student who was wounded in a 2016 school shooting in Townville, SC. Jacob survived the initial wound, but died three days because of complications from massive blood loss.
As a result of that tragic loss of life, Angela Byrne, a teacher in Beaufort County ask her husband Daniel Byrne, a firefighter and paramedic, if there was anything she could do if something like that happened at her school. Together, they developed the JACOB Kit Program.
Ann Carr said that Jacob Hall’s dream was to be a super hero and save lives.
“Naming this program after Jacob emphasizes to schools, teacher, and parents the importance of having the resources and knowledge to stop the bleed,” Carr said.
Carr added that the program has been 100 percent funded by local grants and donations, “making it a true community grassroots-driven and supported program.”
She added since the program’s inaugural implementation at the Broad River Elementary School in 2017, it has spread throughout the county and is in all of Beaufort County’s buildings. The Byrnes have also been helping several other schools, fire departments and emergency management divisions throughout the country to start their own programs.
In accepting the award Daniel Byrne said the world is different these days.
“Our communities are changing,” he said. “There are new threats out there and there are new risks.”
He said communities are search for solutions and heroes to provide the solutions.
“So, it is a time as a fire service to redefine the services we provide and think about what we can do for our communities to get out there and save lives,” Daniel Byrne said. “It is an honor to have this award in Chief Carr’s name and showing what is possible when an idea and passion come together. There are no other professions that I can think can do that other than a firefighter and a teacher.”
The Arthur J. Glatfelter Distinguished Service Award
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) took a few moments at Firehouse Expo to honor a person who has served the organization with distinction over the years.
The 2019 Arthur J. Glatfelter Distinguished Service Award was given to MaryAnn Gibbons, a person who was instrumental in creating the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmetsburg, MD.
Presenting the award to Gibbons was Anthony Campisi, president and CEO of Glatfelter Insurance Group.
In presenting the award, Campisi said Arthur Glatfelter was a champion of firefighters and emergency service personnel. One of his greatest passions was working with the NFFF, Campisi said.
“In his memory, we have continued to recognize the kind of dedication and commitment that Art had to this group, and we are delighted to be here to recognize MaryAnn Gibbons for her dedication and commitment to the fire and emergency services community and to remember the legacy of our founder, Arthur J. Glatfelter.
In accepting the award, Gibbons said she was “totally surprised and completely overwhelmed” when she learned she had been selected as the award recipient.
“To me, I was just doing what comes naturally, but with honor and love and respect for those who have gone before us and for those they left behind.
She said the award would be displayed on her mantle alongside the same one her late husband, Chief Marvin Gibbons, was given three years ago. The couple would have been marking their 72 wedding anniversary this year, she added.