Richmond Hill Exchange Club President Laura Evans said driving past a traffic stop on her way to work Wednesday morning reminded her of why the club has been honoring the county’s top public safety officers since 1990.
“I just happened to cross (the stop) and the officer had gotten out of his vehicle (and) was walking up with a lot of concern and care, like we would if we had to approach a vehicle and we didn’t know who was in there,” Evans said. “Every single day y’all have to put yourself in harm’s way to protect us, and we so appreciate you, and we’re so glad to have this opportunity to recognize you.”
Evans then turned over the spotlight at the Richmond Hill City Center to those being recognized — Richmond Hill Police Officer Michael Ward, Bryan County Sheriff’s Cpl. Frank Tatum, 911 dispatcher Brittany Routh, Richmond Hill Firefighter Jordan Johnson and Bryan County Emergency Services Firefighter/Paramedic Danny Dixon.
Ward, a former firefighter and county deputy who has been with RHPD for two years and hails from a family of law enforcement officers, said being in law enforcement is being in an extended family.
“I learn something from everybody and try to take that with me every day,” Ward said. “Everybody I come across has made me who I am today, and my department gives me all the support in the world from the bottom to the top. I can’t ask for better than that.”
Ward was introduced by Richmond Hill Police Chief Billy Reynolds, who thanked the Exchange Club for the program.
“I think this is great that you recognize these guys, because they do work hard every day and they leave their families, sometimes not knowing whether they’re going back home that night,” Reynolds said, noting that Ward was chosen by his peers and was “100 percent professional all the time and an asset to his community. I can’t think of a better person in our department to receive this.”
Tatum, who died in February at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, was introduced by Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith, who also thanked the Exchange Club.
“Frank had been with us since ’04,” Smith said. “But he’d been in law enforcement for 40 years. Sadly, he couldn’t be with us today.”
Smith presented the award to Tatum’s widow, Eileen Tatum.
“I just want to say, and I don’t want to cry,” she said, then paused to collect herself before continuing. “Frank loved being a police officer, and he’d be so proud of this.”
She thanked her family, her son Shane, his wife Karen, and grandsons Damion, Fabeion, Austin and Ashton, for their support.
“Frank would be thrilled with this, thank y’all so much,” Eileen Tatum said.
Routh was unable to attend Wednesday’s event, but Smith said she’s been with the Bryan County 911 for eight years and “she does a very good job for us.”
Johnson’s award as Richmond Hill’s top firefighter was handed out by Fire Chief Ralph Catlett, who noted that shortly after Johnson was selected for the honor, he knocked a door off a fire truck.
“I don’t know if you saw a fire truck driving around with a big 3-foot compart door missing off the side,” Catlett joked. “That was Justin, who tried to modify the fire truck by backing it into the fire station with the department door open.”
Joking aside, Catlett said Johnson was driven to find knowledge, “extremely motivated and works with little or no supervision and he’s embraced the department’s high standards.”
Johnson, whose father is a firefighter in Augusta, said he was supposed to follow in those footsteps, but he and his wife decided that they wanted to live closer to the beach.
“It was a little bit of culture shock at first,” Johnson said. “Coming from a large department with 19 engine companies and four guys to a truck … I remember when I told my dad I was going to Richmond Hill and he said, ‘Where is Richmond Hill?’”
Johnson echoed the theme that public safety is family.
“My wife had to work so she couldn’t be here, but I do have family here — Lt. (Michelle) Meacham, Firefighter (Brendan) Greene, who are on my shift,” Johnson said. “We see each other more than we see our own families.”
Dixon was introduced by Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell, who paid the paramedic and certified Georgia Smoke Diver one of the highest tributes one can pay.
“If he’s in the ambulance when you call 911, you will be well taken care of, I can assure you,” Howell said. “I will put my life in this man’s hands any day of the week.”
Howell also gave a nod to other agencies, calling them all one team that “I think is the best team in the country.”
Dixon, a 13-year veteran of BCES who also won the award last year and has 26 years of experience, deflected credit, saying it was about the team. He praised other agencies and talked about his partner, EMT Sarah Pratt.
“I’m going to get in the doghouse for this, but she’s about 10 hours away from getting her master’s in epidemiology and only came off the dean’s list once, and that was during (about two weeks) of back-to-back calls,” Dixon said. “So many people here carry so much and never even get a mention, but they don’t stop, they keep on going. And that’s what makes a team.”