Firefighter of the Year awards set for Wednesday in Merced

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 29, 2013 

A special group of firefighters across Merced County will get a moment in the spotlight during an awards dinner Wednesday night.

The American Legion Firefighter of the Year Awards recognizes outstanding firefighters and volunteers from seven different agencies, said Jeremy Rahn, fire captain with the Merced County Fire Department.

"Each city selects who they're going to recognize in the event," Rahn said. "It's based on achievements and involvement in the community, like teaching public safety classes or helping with youth sports."

The firefighters bring their families to the annual event, and usually receive a plaque or certificate for their achievement, he said.

Lester Tucker, secretary for the American Legion's Post 83 in Merced, helped organize this year's event.

"It's about appreciating them for what they did," he said. "These guys are always on the front lines, and they just don't get recognized for everything that they do."

Tucker said first responders are similar to soldiers in that they aren't usually appreciated when there isn't an emergency or disaster.

"They fall to the wayside because nobody thinks about what they're doing every day, or how their families are coping," Tucker said. "When they're out of sight, they're out of mind. And our society needs to recognize these people working on the front lines every day."

The evening will include a tri-tip dinner with salad, Tucker said. The ceremony is open to the public, and tickets cost $10.

Tucker said he hopes the event raises awareness about the daily sacrifice firefighters make to save lives.

"Half the time they don't get the recognition they deserve," Tucker said. "It's important we keep them and their families in our prayers so they can continue doing their jobs."

The annual American Legion Firefighter of the Year Awards Banquet will begin with a social hour at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. and awards at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the American Legion Post 83 on 939 W. Main St. in Merced.

This year's recipients are:

• City of Atwater -- Fire engineer John Rice

• City of Dos Palos -- Volunteer firefighter Anthony Figueroa

• City of Gustine -- Volunteer firefighter Steve Lanfranco

• City of Livingston -- Volunteer firefighter Juan Aguilar

• City of Los Banos -- Volunteer firefighter Lt. Rob Barajas and Capt. Eddie Vierra

• City of Merced -- Capt. DeWayne Young

• County of Merced -- Volunteer Firefighter Roy Loewen and Capt. Joey Felix

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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