The FFAM Awards Committee is appreciative of everyone who submitted nominations to recognize FFAM members with 2019 awards from the Association. Each award was presented on Saturday, April 13, in Sedalia during the annual convention. Every nomination received were excellent and worthy of recognition in their respective categories. Again, thank you for taking the time to showcase and recognize the amazing achievements of our members.
The Awards Committee had the honor to present six Lifesaving Awards, Firefighter of the Year, Chief Officer of the Year and the Phil Sayer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jared Wilt; Shelbina Fire Protection District.
Keil Borchers, Kente Boldridge, Gary Goetz, Miles Crow, Jeff Drury, Grant Oetting, Ashley Page; Higginsville Fire Protection District.
Justin Braun, Jason Hammann, Matt Long; Cole County Fire Protection District.
Joe Auffert, Chris Wilbanks, Joey Smith, Christel Cantrell; Howell County Rural Fire District #1.
Kendra Matthews, Alex Matthews, Brayden Miller; Norborne Fire Protection District.
Miles Crow, Jeff Drury, Adam Mallory; Higginsville Fire Protection District.
Firefighter of the Year
2019 Firefighter of the Year was presented to Jason Whitley of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. Field Training Officer began his career with Sikeston in 2004 where he has been training probationary officers in law enforcement and firefighting since 2007.
A simple measure of dedication to his agency exists in his off-duty response to structure fires where he has maintained an off-duty response in the 90 percentile for the past several years.
Not only does FTO Whitley train probationary officers, he is also responsible for all fire training to personnel throughout the entire agency. He takes pride in reducing fire loss and attends trainings to better serve his beers and his community.
On several occasions, FTO Whitley has entered burning structures, selflessly placing his safety at risk to attempt to save occupants. In two recent incidents those occupants did not survive, but his efforts found and removed them from the structures.
FTO Whitley is a fire service instructor, hazmat instructor, fire investigator, fire prevention officer, member of the regional homeland security response team, fire extinguisher instructor, MSA SCBA instructor, he maintains all of his agencies fire apparatus, is President of the Sikeston Rescue Squad, and is President of the Sikeston Professional Fire Association.
FTO Whitley demonstrates his ability to perform his duties in a professional manner that sets the bar for his agency. He arrives for shift every day with a positive attitude while wanting to teach others the job we all love. He is dedicated to his job, to his family, to his work family, and to the citizens of Sikeston.
2019 Chief Officer of the Year
2019 Chief Officer of the Year was presented to Assistant Chief Gary Berendzen of the Cole County Fire Protection District. Chief Berendzen began in the fire service as a volunteer when he was 18 years old and has now served as a volunteer for 43 years. At the age of 21 he joined his local career fire department where he retired from as a Captain after 30 years of service.
While with Cole County Chief Berendzen has served as a Training Officer, Cadet Leader, Lieutenant, and his current role of Assistant Chief. He also previously served on a third agency for around six years where he held the positions of Firefighter, Lieutenant, and Deputy Chief, all while working with the cadets within his department.
Chief Berendzen visits the schools within his jurisdiction during fire prevention week or any time the schools want assistance in promoting fire safety. In addition to working with the schools, he was instrumental in establishing his agency’s cadet program and works with the cadets to keep their grades up so they can be active within the program.
He has been a member of the FFAM since 1983 where he currently serves as a Director. Chief Berendzen has participated in the FFAM contest during conventions for many year and has now made the transition into a leadership position within the Contest Committee.
Chief Berendzen has worked with MU FRTI’s Summer Fire School since 1995 where he served as a volunteer associate faculty member before working his way into assisting with ground support of the school, logistic section supply unit supervisor from 1997 to 2001, and logistic chief from 2002 to 2017.
His children are following in his footsteps of service. Chief Berendzen has four children, one daughter and three sons, who are all volunteer firefighters. Between him and his children, they have a combined 90 years in the volunteer fire service. One son also serves as a career firefighter.
Outside of his family and the fire service, he continues to serve the community while being involved in Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. He teaches fire safety, CPR, and first aid to new scouts. He also still attends summer camps every summer and helps with fund-raising every year.
His fire service leadership, experience, and dedication towards mentoring youth, show his selflessness to serving his community.
Phil Sayer Lifetime Achievement Award
The Phil Sayer Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to retired Chief Willard “Bill” Halmich of the Washington Fire Department. The Phil Sayer Lifetime Achievement Award is sponsored by the Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Service (VFIS) in partnership with the FFAM and Sayer family. The awards is presented annually to honor an individual whose remarkable achievements in the fire service and community exemplifies outstanding performance.
Chief Halmich has dedicated his life to his country, his family, his fire department, his community, and the fire service community locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
He began his career with the Washington Fire Department in April 1966 and served his department from that date forward, except for a period when he served his country with a tour of duty with the United States Army as a combat soldier in the Republic of Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. He was honorably discharged from the Army as a Sergeant Specialist 5. He returned to Washington where he rose from a Firefighter to a Lieutenant, and then to Chief where he served in that capacity for 37 years, before retiring from Chief back to Firefighter in 2018.
During his period of leadership, Chief Halmich oversaw a department consisting of four stations and 65 volunteers protecting 65 square miles. The agency is regionally known for excellence and well trained, disciplined personnel. He was a key committee member on a capital improvement tax which he continued to serve on for two additional renewal periods. As a result of these taxes, he oversaw the acquisition of property and construction of four fire stations and a high tech 10 acre training center. The last renewal of the capital improvement tax laid the groundwork for the expansion for a fifth fire station in the most eastern part of the city. He saw the replacement of the entire apparatus fleet, with the addition of several key pieces of equipment and the department was also able to lower their ISO rating to a Class 3.
Chief Halmich started the first aid program for his department, was an integral part of the establishment of a fire technology program at East Central College, served on the State Fire Education Commission, and the State of Missouri Emergency Response Commission. He served as the Commander of the Homeland Security Hazmat Team in Franklin County and served as the county representative on the St. Louis Area Regional Response System Hazmat Working Group. He was active with state mutual aid, serving as the Region C, Area 3, Coordinator.
Chief Halmich contacted and worked with several State Representatives and Senators and worked with legislators to establish the dry hydrant program in Missouri, resulting in Revised Statute 320.273. In addition, he worked with the General Assembly to establish worker’s compensation for volunteer firefighters after an injury to a firefighter in Washington.
He worked to create the Washington Community Fire Protection District which works with a cooperative agreement with the City of Washington for tax supported fire protection within and surrounding the city limits. He also served on the committee for the establishment of 911 in Washington and later on the committee for county-wide 911.
Chief Halmich has earned five awards of merit and two medals of valor from his department in addition to having three CPR saves and countless other accomplishments.
In 2016, he was recognized by the International Association of Fire Chiefs as the Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year, in recognition of his service to the world-wide fire service community. Today, he remains devoted to the fire service locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, as he has for over 50 years.
In a letter, late Chief Alan Brunacini described him by saying, “The countless hours he has voluntarily committed to the advancement of the fire service testify to his unwavering dedication. He is a respected leader and a gifted fire ground officer, who continued to look to the future, and prepare for whatever it may hold.”
In so many ways, he has held to his guiding principles: Lead from the front, example is the best general order, and accomplish the mission but retire health.
Again, on behalf of the entire FFAM Awards Committee, thank you to everyone who submitted nominations this year. Please continue to submit nominations for 2020 recognition throughout the remainder of year. Even though the deadline for nominations is February 28, 2020, we do not want to miss an opportunity to recognize the achievements of our members; so send them to us as they happen.