01/21/04 — Gardner is fireman of the year

View Archive

Gardner is fireman of the year

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on January 21, 2004 2:02 PM

Not only has Kenneth Gardner tried to keep Wayne County's roads safe as a state Highway Patrol trooper, but he also has tried to protect property and lives in the Pikeville-Pleasant Grove fire district as a volunteer firefighter.

For the latter service, Gardner received the G. Edgar Summerlin Award on Tuesday night as the Wayne County fireman of the year during the annual county firemen's association banquet at the Moose Lodge.

The award was presented by Wesley Wooten, who had succeeded Gardner as Pikeville's chief and who won the same award in 1999.

Gardner said he missed the 1999 program because he had to work and did not want to attend the banquet in uniform.

"I got mad and didn't come," Gardner said and then apologized to Wooten.

Gardner said his supervisor at home -- his wife, Mary -- told him Tuesday that he was going to this year's banquet.

Gardner joined the fire department in 1973, then left it to become a trooper, moved away, but saw Nahunta volunteers out of town and decided to rejoin the fire service. He has served in many capacities, but he is best known for his work at the training grounds. He was assigned recently on special assignment with the Highway Patrol in Raleigh.

While Gardner was winning the men's award for the first time, the auxiliary member of the year was a repeat winner -- Joan Williams of Arrington. She was elected in a secret ballot. She has served more than 20 years with the group.

Arrington also was a repeat winner of the auxiliary-of-the-year award, an honor based on a point system.

Smith lauds volunteers

The guest speaker, state Sen. Fred Smith of Clayton, paid tribute to the volunteers for their dedicated service.

Smith said the Legislature last year took four actions that affect firefighters and their wives. It increased the death benefit from $25,000 to $50,000; increased pensions; protected the jobs of those called to duty in national disasters, and waived the tuition at the 16 University of North Carolina campuses and community colleges for the dependents of deceased or disabled firefighters.

Smith noted that Benjamin Franklin started the first volunteer fire department in 1736 after he saw a fire in Philadelphia destroy many homes. Until 1850, the senator said, the nation did not have a paid fire department.

Smith used the analogy of 300 Spartans in speaking of the New York firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001. The Spartans, vastly outnumbered in 480 B.C. by the Persians at Thermopylae, fought to the death, inspiring their Greek countryman to rebel later against the invaders. He said New York firefighters exhibited the same call to duty as they "charged into buildings, knowing it was a hopeless situation. Firefighters all across the country do the same thing as they respond to the call of duty ƒ Firemen answer the call, a higher call," Smith said.

"Fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith," Smith urged them.

New officers

New association and auxiliary officers were sworn in by Clerk of Court Marshall Minchew.

The new association officers are President Chris Gurley of Belfast, Vice President Phil Shivar of Indian Springs, Secretary-Treasurer Steve Bryan of Jordans Chapel and Chaplain Curtis Stafford of Nahunta.

The outgoing president, Mike Aycock of Little River, said the association had a good year, surviving Hurricane Isabel and the move of the county's Emergency Services center to the newly named Jeffreys Building. The new center is "something we can be proud of," Aycock said.

The new auxiliary officers are President Joan Williams, Vice President June Smith of Antioch, Secretary Kathy Carmack of Arrington, Treasurer Sherry Pearson of Antioch and Chaplain Sue Turner of Saulston.

Lifetime memberships were presented to Jerry Sutton of Seven Springs, Tom Rowe of Belfast, and Elton Wooten, Facie Denning and Glenn Hartman, all of Pikeville.

The county fire princess, Mary Weller, who represented Pinewood, also performed a fire safety skit.

Twenty-two of the 28 departments earned perfect attendance awards for 2003. Saulston also had the most members at the banquet, with 29.