Pelham Fire Department recognizes civilian Lifesaving Awards at annual ceremony

Published 4:27 pm Monday, April 22, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – On Thursday, April 18, the Pelham Fire Department held its annual promotional, badge pinning and awards ceremony that brought forth attention to the many lifesaving efforts currently on display within the department.

Beginning with an opening prayer led by Pastor Tamane Moore, the ceremony began with the presentation of the colors that marked the beginning of the department’s annual promotional, badge-pinning and award ceremony.

Multiple city officials were in attendance for the ceremony, including Pelham Mayor Gary Waters, Councilmembers Chad Leverett and Michael Harris, Chief of Police Brent Sugg and a number of other current and former members of the Pelham Fire and Police Departments.

“I look forward to this event each and every year,” Fire Chief Mike Reid said. “This is a chance for us to really brag on our people, despite the fact that our people don’t like us bragging on them. It really does give us a moment to shine and show the good work that they have done throughout the year.”

Reid also thanked the families of those in the fire service for their part in supporting their efforts.

“We have a tough job and if it wasn’t for our families being there—supporting us, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Reid said.

As part of the ceremony, the Pelham Fire Department conducted a swearing-in ceremony for five new firefighters to the department that were hired over the past year. The ceremony also included the swearing in of two newly promoted apparatus operators and the overall promotion of six additional fire officers to elevated positions within the department.

Those firefighters that were newly sworn in included:

  • Clayton Lewis – hired June 5, 2023
  • Matthew Brodie Waid – hired June 5, 2023
  • Cohen Lee – hired Aug. 19, 2023
  • Greg Lowery – hired Sept. 11, 2023
  • Charles Patton – hired Jan. 2, 2024

Apparatus Operators included:

  • Chris McIntyre – promoted Feb. 22, 2024
  • Mark Whitehurst – promoted Feb. 22, 2024

Fire Officers that were promoted included:

  • Battalion Chief Philip Lorino
  • Capt. Donny Sisco
  •  Capt. Thomas Nails
  • Capt.  Matt Maples
  • Lt. Brett Cox
  •  Lt. Brent Rejonis

For the first time in the department’s history, the Pelham Fire Department also bestowed five civilians with Lifesaving Awards.

“As many of you know, being a firefighter is not just about running into burning buildings, saving people from the dangers of fire and getting cats out of trees anymore,” Reid said. “It’s also about meeting the other needs that the community has—like rope rescue, confined space rescue, dive rescue and recovery, wildfire fighting, HAZMAT response and last, but certainly not least, emergency medical response.”

The Pelham Fire Department now sees that anywhere from 60-70 percent of all responses annually are medically related.

“We respond to a lot of medical calls,” Reid said. “(Therefore) we do a lot of medical training. Many of the awards this evening will be medically related, reflecting what we do most.”

According to Reid, the American Heart Association reports that 436,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrests. Of those, 350,000 occur outside of a hospital with 73.4 percent of them occurring at homes or residences and 16.3 percent occurring at public spaces and 10.3 in nursing homes.

“If performed immediately, CPR can double or triple the chance of survival for cardiac arrest patients that occur outside the hospital,” Reid said. “Unfortunately, only 40 percent of the people in cardiac arrest get immediate help before medical professionals arrive.”

The national average for EMS providers to be able to get a pulse back from a cardiac arrest patient is around 28 percent. However, in Pelham, the Pelham Fire Department reported a percentage rate of 54 percent.

“That is almost double the national average,” Reid said. “This is in large part because of the actions of the five civilians we are recognizing tonight as well as the fire and EMS personnel we will recognize.”

Don Jones Jr. was the first civilian recognized with an award for his role in providing CPR to David Harris on Oct. 6, 2023 when Harris went unresponsive while doing volunteer work at a local food pantry.

“(Don Jones Jr.’s) quick interactions and interventions with high-quality CPR was undoubtedly an important factor in David Harris’ full recovery,” Reid said. “Thank you, Mr. Jones.”

Jones Jr. and Harris both stood in front of the audience while Jones Jr. received his award from Reid.

“I’d also like to thank the Pelham Firemen from the bottom of my heart,” Harris said.

Harris continues to be a familiar and active face in the community and is the brother to Capt. Harris on the Pelham Fire Department and is an uncle to Pelham City Councilmember Michael Harris.

The other four awards were presented for the heroic actions depicted during last year’s Xterra Race at Oak Mountain State Park when competitor Mike Edwards suffered a cardiac arrest while biking. The CPR services for Edwards were likely performed for as long as 15 minutes before medical professionals were able to locate and arrive at the scene.

Dr. Nicole Carter, a pediatrician from Auburn, and Valerie Shows began CPR on Edwards.  Lifeguards Jonah Abercrombie and Jack Smith also joined efforts after noticing the commotion and going across the lake to provide aid. All four were presented with awards for their role in saving Edwards’ life.

“I’m very grateful for these four people and the EMS and firemen,” Edwards said. “I’ve had four other friends and acquaintances who’ve had heart attacks this year and they were all around groups of people. None of them survived, so I know how incredibly lucky I am to be alive.”

Reid also took a moment to encourage all residents to take a CPR class and learn the lifesaving skill.

“It is the single most important skill you can possess and it can possibly make the difference in saving someone’s life,” Reid said. “To see one individual be saved and walk away from a hospital is incredible. To see two survivors—in the same room—is mind blowing. I am just in awe.”

Unit citations were also presented for the response and actions seen by Pelham Fire Department personnel during Edward’s rescue. The individuals recognized were:

  •  Firefighter Isaac Cruz
  •  Retired Firefighter Ken Mays
  •  Fire Medic George “Buddy” Ingleright
  •  Fire Medic Patrick Taunton
  •  Apparatus Operator Brett Gillespie
  •  Apparatus Operator Drew Babyak
  •  Lt. Brett Cox
  •  Lt. Judson Houston
  •  Lt. Roy Simpson
  •  Battalion Chief Michael Roux
  •  Fire Inspector Scott Lee

At the close of the ceremony, Ingleright was also recognized for his receipt of the 2023-2024 Firefighter of the Year award from the Shelby County Chamber which he received in September as part of the Chamber’s public safety banquet.

“We always recognize our firefighter of the year at this event as well,” Reid said. “Buddy was nominated by several of our officers and fire medics because of the impeccable EMS skills that have played an integral part in the success of our RSI Pilot program coordinated through the Alabama Office of EMS in an effort to increase the skill and level of care for our patients in the field.

Ingleright has also recently completed the training and education requirements to become a critical care paramedic, the highest level of paramedic training available.

In a surprise to Ingleright, Reid asked him to remain standing near the podium following his recognition and proceeded to introduce the department’s new EMS Excellence Award, named in honor of late Battalion Chief Eldon Green.

Green’s wife was asked to also come in front of the audience as the award was introduced.

“After retiring, (Green) became our employee representative on the personnel board where he served for about two years until his untimely passing on Sept. 4, 2021,” Reid said. “For almost three years now we have been trying to come up with a way to remember him that promotes his standards of excellence in EMS and represents what he means to so many of us that new him dearly.”

Reid announced the intention to honor Green and hopefully set the gold standard for excellence in the emergency medical field and for the Pelham Fire Department by surprising and awarding the first ever Battalion Chief Eldon Green EMS Excellence Award to Ingleright.

“This is among the best events that I have been a part of,” Reid said. “We truly have some lifesaving heroes in the audience tonight, and I appreciate everyone for coming.”