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Chief jona receives Volunteer Fire Chief of the year award!
Check out the Award Press Release and jona's Acceptance Speach

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Chief jona's Acceptance Speech for 2012 Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year Award

Thank you,  Jim Johnson & Pierce Manufacturing; Janet Wilmoth and Fire Chief Magazine.
 
Thank you Fire 20/20 and Larry Sagan for nominating me.
 
I am Honored and humbled by this award, and grateful to past recipients and the other nominees this year, for their immense contributions to our service, and for setting the “Chief bar” so high.
 
When Janet called to tell me I was selected, I was stunned – and so amazingly articulate I could only keep repeating “wow.” It was probably a dozen “wows” before I could utter a complete sentence. Until her call I really thought my biggest photo op of the year would be holding up me newly minted medicare card next to my 2012 wildland red card – having just passed my pack test at 65.
 
Chief of the year can never be ONE person’s award. As it takes a village to raise a child - It takes a dept or several, AND the village – to raise a chief. Without our depts. and many others, none of us could receive this honor. There are many to thank.
 
First, I want to recognize and thank all the members – past and current – of the Latir Volunteer Fire Dept. I am so proud to serve with this amazing, compassionate, professional crew. Our dept “T” shirts say, “Professionally staffed by volunteers.” Professional for us means serving each day with kindness and competence. All our members do just that.
 
They take wildly varied emergencies in our poor, rural, high desert – from the house fires – in adobe adobe homes with 3-4 different roofs.
From small grass fires to the 90,000 acre forest fire @ 9000 feet
From the rescue of a lama (4 footed) in the rio grande canyon
To the elderly pt w/ chest pain – who was hauled to the ambulance in a stokes on a tobaggan because the dirt road was impassable in the deep snow.
Even calming a visitor to our district who called us terrified, because the home she was house-sitting was “surrounded by giant spiders.” Our responders arrived on scene and tried to assure her she was perfectly safe – she had just arrived during the annual tarantula migration.
 
we were able to bring a few of our responders tonight. They’ll not be happy with me for this, but I would ask them to please, stand.
They are the reason I get to stand here tonight.
 
Latir is one of 20 depts in the Enchanted Circle Regional, many of them all volunteer. I want to appreciate all the auto and mutual aid they provide, the immense number of hours of training offered, and the support network provided by the other Chiefs.
 
I recognize and thank all the other totally volunteer, tiny rural and remote who cover large areas, with few responders and even fewer resources than our dept has. Thru grants and a small budget from our state & county at least, our members don’t have to buy their own PPE.
 
Especially in Rural America, there are thousands of volunteers who are on call 24/7/365, no days off – who care for their neighbors – for no pay.
They care for their neighbors – in all kinds of emergencies. And make no mistake, that until our nation comes to its senses and moves into the 21st century to provide quality healthcare for all its citizens, we are Universal healthcare. Especially in NM – 2nd poorest state in the US – we are too often peoples’ only healthcare.
 
I want to recognize and appreciate another group of people critical to our mission in the volunteer service – our families. Every vol in this room knows how many meals, holiday celebrations, kids school events, and nights of sleep are interrupted by our pagers. When the tone goes off, it’s a family affair. I want to thank all our family members, especially my partner, Jane, who has organized special events, helped write grants, dialed the phone tree when pagers were down, eaten many meals alone, and who can always seem to lay her hands on my socks when my sleep-deprived, adrenalin blurred mind can’t find them. Just the other day an elderly neighbor called our home because she was terrified of the snake she found in her kitchen. (We live in rattlesnake country, so we take these calls very seriously.) Jane stayed on the phone with her, talking her “down,” until I could arrive to carry the snake to a new home.
 
Warning: Political part of my remarks: Those gathered in this room tonight are aware that we are facing a National crisis – the aging, and diminishing number of volunteers. The expanding mission & training requirements versus decreased volunteer time to give and often decreased funding.
 
If volunteer service is to survive this natl crisis, among many possible solutions I want to mention 2 tonight:
    1.    We must work to restore the national will / commitment to public service and volunteerism. While I do believe we have to create local recruiting programs, why don’t we have national media ads for volunteer fire service like we have for the national guard? Why no billboards promoting vol service like we do for donating blood?
    2.    We must build a more inclusive service – a truly inclusive fire service will result in a more diverse one. Build it and they will come.
 
 
It’s time to move into the 21st century, acknowledge not just the NEED for diversity but the GIFT that it brings to our service.  POC, women, LGBT not Problems to be managed. I am not a problem to be managed.
 
Now some of my best friends and responders are white, straight guys, 18-30 years old – but we’re running low on that demographic. Some leave our rural districts, some are just not volunteering – and not just because of the economy, but because of changing demographics.
 
Our Ability to better fulfill our ever-expanding mission, and serve our increasingly diverse communities with higher quality customer service demands a diverse workforce. A diverse workforce will build stronger deeper relationships with the communities we serve, and will encourage even more recruitment. Most importantly, those are the kind of relationships required to implement effective prevention programs.
 
As my friend, Jagtar Singh, retired Deputy Chief in the UK, often says,
“I don’t want the fire service to simply reflect the community – I want it to reflect the very best of EVERY community.”
 
As a vol chief I have to be a shameless fundraiser – we’re trying to build the first totally off-the-grid, rammed earth fire station in the US station – so see me if you have ideas for funding sources.
 
I’m a shameless recruiter – we’re always looking for some great recruits - come do your cardio workout with us at 8000’
I am shameless promoter – one of our young young FF / EMT, chris martinez, is here tonight and he’s looking for a career opportunity – but we’ll only let him go to a good home.
 
In our noble profession, we have courageous people, honorable traditions, and a future with limitless potential for good, and I look forward to serving with you for many more years.
 
Thank you all for this amazing honor, but please know I can only accept on behalf of every volunteer responder across this nation who’s pager is on tonight while I am here with you.