Every year the Highlands Fire & Rescue Department enjoys a little down time to recognize its own for the year-long work it does and to announce the Firefighter of the Year.
The Firefighter of the Year is picked by the members of the department and represents the hard work and commitment they all give to the job.
This year, Davis Picklesimer was named “Firefighter of the Year.”
“I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to serve,” he said. “As a teenager, I saw my father save somebody’s life at a fair in Franklin and that impacted me at that age. And now, thanks to all of you in this room, I am part of a team that saves people’s lives.”
Pictured at the top of the article from left are Fire Chief Ryan Gearhart, Firefighter of the Year Davis Picklesimer, and Asst. Fire Chief Robbie Forrester at the annual awards banquet at OEI’s The Spring House, Friday, Jan. 31.
Fire Chief Ryan Gearhart presided over the affair first recognizing and thanking the retired and founding fathers of the department, many who were present at the banquet with their spouses.
He recognized the number of training hours logged by the department – 2,128.25 hours, which is a crucial part of the job. Jason Tardo was recognized for earning the most training hours at 153 hours.
“I know this takes a lot of time out of your life and means time away from family and friends and I appreciate that this is a sacrifice you are willing to make,” he said.
Gearhart said the number of calls the department responds to increases each year. When the founding fathers were on call, 100 calls a year was a lot, he said. “We are growing every year.”
All tolled there were 540 calls – 14 fires, 269 first-responder calls, 26 hazard conditions with no fire calls, 43 calls for service, 75 good intention calls, 109 false alarms and false calls, 2 severe weather and natural disaster calls, and 2 special incident calls.
Gearhart welcomed new junior member Tristan Petrone to the clan. Each year for the 30 years he has been on the force, Roger Lee Wilson has earned the Perfect Attendance award. This year he was joined by Leah Dallmann who has been on the force for five years.
Also recognized for being on the force for five years, was Paul Corbin. Those on the force for 10 years are Chris Barden and Hunter Leffler. Travis Ramey has been on the force for 15 years; Ryan Gearhart for 20 years; Robbie Forrester for 25 years; Wilson for 30 and Gary Ammons for 35 years.
Macon County Commission Chairman and Highlands Firefighter Jim Tate made 2019 his last year on the force, hanging up his hat after 20 years.
He joined the department Oct. 6, 1998, earned his EMT certificate in 2002, his EMT Intermediate certificate in 2009, and was Rescue Captain 2002, 2004, from 2006-2009 and in 2012.
Tate was 2nd Lt. in 2005, Fire Captain in 2010, 1st Lt. in 2011, Rescue Lt. 2013-2014, and named Fireman of the Year in 2000.
In his farewell speech Tate said he remembered when Fire Chief Mike McCall pulled into his driveway and told him he’d make a good fireman.
“I thought about it for a few days and said, yeah, I think I’m ready and besides asking Allison to marry me, it’s probably the best decision I’ve made in my life,” he said.
Tate said joining the department was a stepping stone to starting his business and even becoming a county commissioner.
“I haven’t been a very good fireman in the last five years; not because I didn’t want to be, but because my duties pulled me elsewhere. But as I look back at my time as a Highlands fireman, I look at the leadership skills it gave me,” he said. “I didn’t realize at the time, but you build yourself up and sell yourself and learn to become a leader. Then once you become a leader it’s all about building up the people beneath you and that’s what the fire department has done. We had some great leaders that helped train me I appreciate each and every one of you.”
For several years, the annual Firefighter Award Banquet has been held at OEI’s The Spring House – this year, Friday, Jan. 31.
Article and photo by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper