Eight firefighters received top honors from their peers Wednesday during the annual Merced County Firefighters of Year banquet at the American Legion Hall.
Firefighters from departments in Merced, Atwater, Dos Palos, Gustine, Livingston, Los Banos and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection-Merced County were honored.
“It’s about honoring the people that inspire us all every day in everything they do,” Cal Fire-Merced County Chief Nancy Koerperich said Wednesday.
Koerperich said the Firefighters of the Year awards are given to full-time and volunteer firefighters based on both their response to fires and other emergencies, as well as their involvement in “extracurricular activities,” such as community events and education. Each department uses its own system to hand-pick the awards.
Koerperich praised each volunteer, but was particularly complimentary of First Assistant Chief Stephen Bell from Gustine, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s banquet for health reasons. Bell received awards for his work from Gustine and from Merced County.
“He’s a really great volunteer, very inspiring,” Koerperich said.
Fire departments in Merced County take turns organizing and cooking at the banquet each year, a tradition dating back at least 20 years, according to this year’s organizers, the Los Banos Fire Department.
“The camaraderie between all the fire departments in the county has really built up over the years and it’s an honor to be recognized by all your peers and officers; it really means a lot,” Los Banos Fire Capt. Mason Hurley said.
Firefighters who were honored this year were: Arturo Vargas (Atwater/Cal Fire), Martin Merez (Dos Palos), Bell (Gustine/Cal Fire), Jose Flores (Livingston), Edward Vierra (Los Banos), David Guerrero (Los Banos), Randy Peterson (Cal Fire) and Jeff Hakola (Merced).