Mike Blackmon, the Rock Hill fire chief who worked his way up through the ranks, stood at the pulpit of a church and said words as powerful as any sermon. He spoke about courage, guts, on the Saturday that the department promoted firefighters and gave out awards.
Service. Serve others. Give the courage that you have in a way you can give it. Firefighters give their skin and lungs for the rest of us.
Steve Rogers, a battalion chief who has fought so many fires through his years up the fire ladder and career ladder, stood uncomfortably at the front in his dress blue uniform and a tie. The tie was so far off-center because Rogers is, like many firefighters, not used to ties. He started at the bottom as a young guy and after more than 25 years is only comfortable with boots and flames and putting your mouth over a stranger's face to breathe life back into that person.
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College Park Baptist Church, which so loves the firefighters of this city, has started a firefighter ministry and hosted the yearly awards Saturday.
First came the promotions, nine of them: Scott Long, Tim Greene, Kenny Martin, Corey Avant, Scott Jadwinski, Steve Draper, Michael Kirkpatrick, Scotty Wilson and J.R. Woodley. Each got a pin, a new badge and thanks for what they do that the rest of us do not give often enough.
Then came the Firefighter of the Year Award, voted on by more than 100 city firefighters. The name "Mike Jadwinski," a 7-year veteran, was read again, and Jadwinski uncomfortably ambled up front to accept the award.
He said, plainly as firefighters do, to his peers packing the pews, "Nobody does this job by himself - I share this with you."
Jadwinski went to sit with his family. His wife, Jennifer, beamed because on this day her husband was not rushing into a burning building and leaving her in terror at home. Jadwinski sat between his two daughters that he leaves every third day for 24-hour shifts. Jessica, 8, snuggled with her daddy on one side. Madison, 5, snuggled on the other. Madison put on her father's fire hat.
"My daddy is a fireman," she said.
Officer of the year went to Capt. Trey Hovis, real name Everett, but never used because calling him Everett means a fire ax is threatened to be used on a head. Hovis has 21 years on the job, is a part-time paramedic, and just 13 months ago, saved a woman brought out of a burning house in the middle of the night. Hovis and a bunch of others broke down a door, brought the lady out and saved her.
"It takes a team," Hovis told the crowd that included his wife, Gina, and son, Evan, 10, and daughter, Carmen, 7.
"It's everybody's award in the whole department, not just mine," said Hovis.
Then, Blackmon told the crowd about a firefighter who was on vacation in North Myrtle Beach when a 3-year-old girl fell into a swimming pool. People phoned 911, but before anybody arrived, a hotel guest found the girl and resuscitated her with the skills he learned in his job, and she lived.