Public safety officials recognized at Chamber luncheon

PELHAM – The Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce recognized public safety officials throughout Shelby County at its monthly community luncheon at the Pelham Civic Complex on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

According to Greater Shelby Chamber CEO Kirk Mancer, the purpose of the event was to honor police officers and firefighters for maintaining the quality of life in Shelby County and keeping residents safe on a daily basis.

“This is one of the, if not the, best programs that we do,” Mancer said.

Alabaster Fire Chief Jim Golden said Brent Conway received more nominations from his peers than any other Firefighter of the Year recipient before him. In the comments Golden shared from the nominations, Conway was referred to as “consistently the best employee at AFD,” “a shining example for all who work with him,” and “what every employee at AFD should aspire to be.”

“We are very blessed to have Brent on our team,” Golden said.

Alabaster Police Chief Curtis Rigney cited Jason Higgins’s work during the October 2016 murder of Tracy Algar, an Alabaster store clerk who was killed during an armed robbery, as one of the reasons Higgins was selected for Officer of the Year. Rigney said Higgins went above and beyond while trying to locate and apprehend the suspect.

“For the next five days, (Higgins and another officer) worked 20 hours a day to find the person responsible,” Rigney said. “On the morning Tracy Algar was laid to rest, they arrested (the suspect).”

Carl Brown was selected as the Cahaba Valley Fire Department Firefighter of the Year for his work training drivers and his reputation throughout the department.

“To know Carl is to love Carl,” CVFD Capt. Barry Casey said. “This award is not because of any specific rescue. It’s a culmination of what he does in our department. Carl devotes his life at the station to mentoring young firefighters.”

Calera Fire Chief Sean Kendrick presented Chase Smith with the Calera FD Firefighter of the Year award. Kendrick recalled a specific rescue where Smith rescued and resuscitated a cat after the owners’ lost their home, and said it was a reflection of the passion he has for his job.

“He would tell you that rescuing a cat, or even a person, is just part of his job,” Kendrick said. “When you meet him, you realize that he has found his calling in life and is pursuing it.”

Kendrick said Smith has introduced many different ideas and is always striving to improve the Calera FD.

“He doesn’t just present ideas for the sake of arguing,” Kendrick said. “He backs them up with facts and statistics.”

Calera Police Chief Sean Lemley said Michael Riley was chosen as the Calera PD Officer of the Year for his bravery during a situation where a gun was pulled on him. Lemley noted the closely the gun was held to Riley after he reviewed footage from Riley’s bodycam.

“You could literally see the barrel of the handgun that was pointed at him,” Lemley said. “The officer’s actions that night were outstanding.”

Chelsea Fire Chief Wayne Shirley presented Andrew White with the Firefighter of the Year Award. Shirley said White took command after a fellow firefighter collapsed during a structure fire and took on several of that firefighter’s responsibilities while he was out.

“I don’t think a seasoned person could have been any calmer in a similar situation,” Shirley said.

Because of a scheduling conflict, Columbiana Firefighter of the Year Josh Dunnaway was unable to attend the luncheon.

Mike Peppers was named as the Columbiana Officer of the year because of his involvement in the community, especially with youth, Columbiana Police Chief Lamar Vick said.

“When you’re policing a small town, you have to get to know the community,” Vick said. “One day, I was out and I saw him and another officer playing basketball with some kids. I got a class from a parent saying how much she appreciated our officers hanging out with her kid in the middle of town one night.”

Linda McCain of the Harpersville Police Department was recognized for her dedication to the department, according to Harpersville Police Chief Jimmy Macon.

“She is one of those people who is in there for 10 hours a day from Monday through Sunday,” McCain said.

In Helena, Craig Sykes was recognized as the Firefighter of the Year and Michael Taquino was awarded Officer of the Year.

Helena Fire Chief Peter Valenti said Sykes managed to have twins, move several times and do excellent work within his first year at Helena FD.

“He never missed a milestone,” Sykes said. “Every day, he came into work smiling and joking.”

Helena Police Chief Pete Folmar said Taquino places a special emphasis on safety and training for officers while at work.

“Mike has a passion for doing things right as safely as possible, but not to a point where it makes regular citizens uncomfortable,” Folmar said. “If I could clone him, I would.”

Hoover Firefighter of the Year Deramius Leonard was credited for his help during an incident where he and his partner rescued a man from a bridge on Lorna Road after the man climbed up there with the intention of committing suicide.

“I can’t say enough about what he’s done for the fire department,” Hoover Fire Chief Rusty Lowe said.

Hoover Police Department Officer of the Year Freddy Hester was also commended for his help in solving a string of robberies at multiple pharmacies across the United States after he discovered blood at two crime scenes in Hoover.

“Hester’s efforts were crucial to getting two suspects identified and brought to justice,” Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said.

Todd Pace was recognized as Officer of the Year in Montevallo by Police Chief Jeremy Littleton.

“Todd is being recognized for the hard work, enthusiasm and dedication he shows every day,” Littleton said. “Todd’s attitude and willingness to do the right thing is why he is being honored.”

Pelham Fire Chief Tim Honeycutt said firefighter Everett Hazen’s nomination as Pelham Firefighter of the Year came as a surprise to him. According to Honeycutt, Hazen is certified in over 60 areas from the Alabama Fire College.

“He is a man that is passionate about his craft,” Honeycutt said. “He exemplifies what a leader should be.”

Pelham Police Chief Larry Palmer said officer Jared Sams was named Officer of the Year because of his work with the Shelby County Traffic Homicide Unit, as well as his professionalism and dedication to the department.

“He was not named for a single incident this year, but for his hard work day in and day out,” Palmer said.

Lastly, James Sellers of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office was named the SCSO’s Officer of the Year for starting Camp Journey, a camp for incoming sixth graders that taught them about law enforcement.

“His initiative and creativity is something we strive for every day,” Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego said.

The luncheon was primarily sponsored by Alabama Power and co-sponsored by A.C. Legg, Inc. Photos from the event can be found at Shelbycountyphotos.com.