Departments name firefighters, officers of year

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

PELHAM – Stories of honor, service to the community and selflessness filled the Pelham Civic Complex Sept. 29 as several cities and departments named their 2010 officers and firefighters of the year.

Alabaster, Calera, Chelsea, Helena and Pelham law enforcement and fire departments joined the North Shelby Fire and EMS Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department as they bestowed the honor to 12 individuals and one entire department.

The honors were part of the annual Safety Awards reception, which is sponsored every year by the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.

The Alabaster Fire Department named Nathan Smitherman, who joined the department in 2003, its Firefighter of the year.

“Nathan is part of what I guess they call the Z generation. They get labeled as not working very hard,” said AFD Lt. Ched Burton. “But Nathan is the exact opposite of that. From day one, he came in here as a fireball. He actually councils me on my attitude sometimes.”

The Alabaster Police Department named Josh Rauch its Officer of the Year, after Rauch performed CPR on a woman and saved her life Aug. 22.

“This officer’s actions not only exemplified those of a law enforcement officer, but those of a public servant,” said APD Deputy Chief Curtis Rigney. “Because of his actions, a woman’s life was saved. That is just one example of what makes him such an asset to our team.”

Calera Fire Department Chief Sean Kendrick, who joined the department last year after the death of longtime chief Tommy Moon, named his entire department Firefighters of the Year.

“We decided this year that we wanted to recognize our entire department,” Kendrick said. “Last year, these guys lost the only chief many of them had ever known. This is just an excellent group of guys.”

Calera Police Department Chief Sean Lemley named Mike Dunkling his Officer of the Year, after Dunkling helped diffuse a hostage situation in 2009.

“Mike entered the house, and the gunman ran into the bedroom and locked himself in,” Lemley said. “By the time SWAT went in, Mike had basically talked the guy out.”

Chelsea Fire Department Chief Wayne Shirley named Cody Cothron the department’s Firefighter of the Year, citing the work Cothron does with the department’s Explorer program.

“Cody and other members of his shift work a lot with our Explorers,” Shirley said. “He spends a lot of his time training young people. I could just go on and on praising him.”

John McMunn earned the Officer of the Year award for the all-volunteer Chelsea Citizen Observer Patrol.

“John is one of our most dedicated members. He is always willing to take on additional assignments,” said COP Director Dale Nuendorf. “He is extremely professional, and extremely dedicated to the program.”

North Shelby Fire and EMS Department Chief Michael O’Connor named Office Manager Dianne Alexander the department’s Person of the Year.

“She has exhibited professionalism and dedication on a daily basis,” O’Connor said. “Basically, she has been on the ground floor from the very beginning.”

Helena Fire Department Capt. Chaed Agee named Joshua Ford the department’s volunteer Firefighter of the Year, and named Larry Jenkins Jr. the department’s paid Firefighter of the Year.

“Josh is very dedicated, and gives a lot of his time without compensation. He is always there when we need him,” Agee said. “Larry is the kind of guy you want at your department. He comes to work happy every day, and has fixed a lot of computers and revamped our website for us.”

Helena Police Department Lt. Brady Flynn named Sean Boczar its Officer of the Year, after Boczar helped to rescue an elderly woman who was swept away by flood waters in March.

“One minute after Sean radioed that he had arrived on the scene, he told us he was able to get her head above the water, but he wasn’t able to move,” Flynn said. “It was a nightmare situation, but after it was over I told Sean ‘you saved a life today.’

“In my 15 years of service, I can tell you I have not been as proud of an officer as I am of Sean.

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry named Corrections Officer Chris Register the department’s Officer of the Year, after Register helped to identify gang members in the Shelby County Jail and other corrections facilities across the region.

“The work of a corrections officer is extremely difficult,” Curry said. “He is a known gang expert in the state of Alabama, and his influence is beyond the walls of that jail.”

Pelham Fire Department Chief Danny Ray named Timothy Honeycutt the department’s Firefighter of the Year, after Honeycutt helped the department secure several grants over the past few years.

“Over the past five years, the Pelham Fire Department has applied for 11 grants. We were awarded four of those because of the work he has done,” Ray said.