SEBRING — Local volunteer firefighters’ years of service went without formal recognition last year during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlands County Fire Rescue officials and the Board of County Commissioners made up for that Tuesday night with an awards ceremony and reception, complete with a cake shaped like a fire helmet and rolled hose. All told, 39 volunteers received honors for a combined 545 years of service, the longest being 41 years from Leisure Lakes Volunteer Fire Department Chief Daniel Holmes Sr. Leisure Lakes Assistant Chief Douglas Pugh has 40 years.

HCFR Chief Marc Bashoor noted the commitment people have made to answer several calls per month, unwavering, for several years, missing family events and memories to see to the protection of other’s homes, property and lives. He told commissioners that he hopes they and future commissions will continue to support the Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP), enacted to help Highlands County Fire Rescue reward volunteers through recognition, gas allowances and monthly stipends based on years of consistent service.

With it, Bashoor said, the county might be able to retain and attract volunteers, saving the need to hire large numbers of paid staff for as long as possible. HCFR has 101 paid positions and 105 volunteer firefighters. Of volunteers, 60 run less than two calls per month, 20 run two to four calls a month, 17 run four to 10 calls and eight run 10 calls or more. “Active” participation depends on how many calls a department runs per month.

“It takes a very special person to be a volunteer,” Commission Chair Scott Kirouac said. Leisure Lakes Volunteer Firefighter Warren “Brad” Eddington and his wife, Rachel Eddington, agreed.

“It’s a commitment,” said Brad Eddington, who has put in 10 years, so far. “It’s very rewarding, that they’re willing to come to my house. I’m willing to do the same [for others], as long as I am able.”

“It’s a family, basically,” Rachel Eddington said.

Those honored, present or not Tuesday, are listed below by years of service, then by name:

30-plus years

- Earl Gray of Highlands Lakes Volunteer Fire Department — 31 years

- Ralph Meyers of West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department — 30 years.

25-29 years

- Joseph DeBree III of DeSoto City Volunteer Fire Department — 26 years.

- Michael Deery of West Sebring VFD — 26 years.

- Clifford Henry of DeSoto City VFD — 26 years.

- Christopher Kelley of West Sebring VFD — 25 years.

- Michael Morse of Highlands Lakes VFD — 25 years.

- Joseph Romanik of West Sebring VFD — 25 years.

20-24 years

- Noah Connell of Leisure Lakes VFD — 21 years.

- Rene Jolliff of DeSoto City VFD — 21 years.

- Mitchell Romine of Leisure Lakes VFD — 21 years.

- Joseph DeBree Jr. of DeSoto City VFD — 20 years.

- Adam Hess of Highlands Lakes VFD — 20 years.

10-19 years

- Jeffrey Bannister of Lorida Volunteer Fire Department — 11 years.

- Scott Kaplan of DeSoto City VFD — 11 years.

- Thomas Moran of Leisure Lakes VFD — 11 years.

- John Muha of West Sebring VFD — 11 years.

- Colt Renfro of Highlands Lakes VFD — 11 years.

- Giovanni Zanetti of Highlands Lakes VFD — 11 years.

- Vincent Cavarra of Leisure Lakes VFD — 10 years.

- Warren Eddington of Leisure Lakes VFD — 10 years.

- James Stuever of Lorida VFD — 10 years.

- Jason Wilkins of Leisure Lakes VFD — 10 years.

5-9 years

- Andrew Alley of Leisure Lakes VFD — 6 years.

- Cory Compton of West Sebring VFD — 6 years.

- Jordan Kinsey of Highlands Park Volunteer Fire Department — 6 years.

- Mark Kinsey of Highlands Park VFD — 6 years.

- Romeo Wanya Dunn of Highlands Lakes VFD — 6 years.

- Zachary Campbell of West Sebring VFD — 5 years.

- Daniel Cole of Leisure Lakes VFD — 5 years.

- Jason Hernandez of Lorida VFD — 5 years.

- Grady Laird of West Sebring VFD — 5 years.

- Logan Morris of Leisure Lakes VFD — 5 years.

- Francisco Olivero of West Sebring VFD — 5 years.

- Vincent Petruzzelli of Placid Lakes Volunteer Fire Department — 5 years.

- Jeffery Wyatt of Highlands Lakes VFD — 5 years.

Each firefighter received a certificate for their service and will receive years-of-service lapel pins once they are available. Bashoor said they were ordered from a vendor in April, and now in June they had still not arrived.

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