John Miller had a big day Saturday.
The 35-year-old not only received a promotion to captain of the Fullerton Fire Department, but he also received the prestigious 2015 Captain Dan Smith Award.
About 300 people celebrated Miller and 43 of his colleagues for their dedication, commitment and success at the Fullerton Fire Department’s Annual Promotional Ceremony April 9.
Friends, family, fellow firefighters and staff gathered at Fire Station 1 in downtown Fullerton to cheer for new hires, firefighters who had completed their probation, and the recently promoted.
Several firefighters also received prestigious awards.
Miller, during his 12 years with the department, has held several leadership roles, including a member on the Station Assignment and Public Relations committees.
Most important, four years ago he established Fullerton FD’s annual “Pinktober” campaign to raise awareness of and funds for cancer research.
In total, the month-long fundraisers have brought in over $80,000. This year’s event, which included selling T-shirts, decals and caps, garnered $26,500 for Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, which was chosen because a Fullerton captain’s daughter has received cancer treatments there.
Miller said he felt privileged to work at the Fullerton FD.
“I am so proud to work with these remarkable individuals,” Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe said. “They are consummate professionals, and the community benefits from their work ethic.”
(Fullerton and Brea have separate fire departments, although Knabe serves as chief of both. Battalion chiefs and other high-ranking officials also represent both departments.)
As an example of the excellence of Fullerton firefighters and paramedics, Knabe shared several stories of heroism.
In the first, the department learned of a driver whose vehicle was wedged beneath a truck. Firefighters quickly arrived on the scene. Leveraging their job knowledge and technical expertise, they managed to extricate the trapped passenger – and save his life.
In another instance, an off-duty Fullerton paramedic vacationing in Catalina came to the aid of a woman having a seizure, providing aid and assistance until local paramedics arrived. He even debriefed local firefighters.
The grateful Catalina fire chief called his Fullerton counterpart because, Knabe said: “He wanted me to know how thankful he was and to recognize one of our paramedic’s conduct and professionalism and how it added to the successful outcome.”
At the ceremony, recently promoted firefighters, in uniform, stood side-by-side as they patiently waited for Knabe to individually call them to the front of the stage. After saying a few nice words about each, Knabe summoned husband, wives, children and close friends to the stage to pin a new badge on loved ones.
Several exultant firefighters fought back tears. Families crowded around the chief for pictures. Smiles abounded.
For Kathy Schaefer, becoming a firefighter remains one of the best decisions she ever made.
Saturday, she became the first female battalion chief of the Fullerton and Brea Fire departments.
“It’s an amazing career where I’m able to help people and make a difference in their lives,” said the 26-year veteran of the Brea/Fullerton Fire departments.
She said she hopes to serve as a role model to the girls and others she has long mentored.
“My success shows them that women can do it all,” said Schaefer, whose husband Bill Schaefer, a paramedic for the city of Brea, and children Dalton and Lauren joined her at the celebration.
“I was a Cub Scout leader, a Girl Scout leader, captain of the tennis team at the Yorba Linda Country Club, a mother, a wife and a firefighter,” Schaefer added. “I feel proud and believe I have accomplished something in my life.”
Firefighters who received major awards at Saturday’s ceremony included:
— 2016 Firefighter of the Year: Brian Seymour, an 18-year veteran of Fullerton FD, was recognized for his many contributions and willingness to take on extra duties with alacrity. He has served as the point person for maintaining and ordering the department’s safety gear; led the training and mentoring of new probationary employees; and served as negotiations chair and station representative for the Fullerton Firefighters’ Association.
— 2015 Firefighter of the Year: Jamie Newton, a 20-year veteran of Fullerton FD, was recently promoted to battalion chief, along with Schaefer. He served for many years as a tactical paramedic on the North County SWAT Team; acted as supply manager for the department’s medical supplies; and served as the Fullerton Firefighters’ Association PAC chairman.
— 2015 Captain Dan Smith Award: Nick Mendoza won the second Dan Smith Award. After nine years of distinguished service, he left Fullerton FD to work with the Orange County Fire Authority.
As the event drew to a close, the audience gave the Fullerton firefighters a rousing standing ovation.
Then the fun began.
In a longstanding tradition, the newly promoted marched outside the station, taking their places below a flat roof holding buckets of water. Moments later, their colleagues from above drenched them.
The soaked firefighters grinned widely, hugged one another and took selfies together. They had passed the final test.