When the Richmond Hill Exchange Club met for lunch Wednesday, club president John Gough called it the group’s most important meeting of the year
“And I meant that,” he said, looking out over a crowded room at the Richmond Hill City Center filled with police, deputies, firefighters and EMS workers there to learn who would be named the Exchange Club’s top public safety officers for 2014.
“We are making these awards, yes, as the Exchange Club,” Gough continued. “But we’re also making them on behalf of the local community, for everything you people do for us throughout the year.”
Honored this year were Richmond Hill Police Officer Michael Akers, Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy William Bragg, Bryan County 911 dispatcher Shannan Argo, Richmond Hill firefighter Lee Newton, Bryan County firefighter Dalton Cook, Bryan County emergency medical technician Lt. Mark Waters and Bryan County paramedic Danny Dixon.
Akers, a former Savannah-Metro officer, was introduced by Richmond Hill Police Chief Billy Reynolds, who started by thanking the Exchange Club for its support and “the opportunity to recognize our best.”
“They work real hard and don’t often get the recognition they deserve. You guys do a great job with this,” Reynolds said, noting he asks employees to nominate candidates.
Akers got the most votes and also just really stood out, the chief said.
“Michael comes to work every day, he’s happy, he wants to do his job,” Reynolds said. “He’s what I call a company person — he’s involved in what’s going on.”
Reynolds gave an example of Akers involvement by explaining RHPD recently upgraded its software, which required putting diagrams of every intersection in town into the system.
“(Akers) went in and redrew every intersection in town and that took some time,” Reynolds said. “Nobody told him to do it, nobody asked him to do it. He just took it upon himself to do it. That’s the type of person Michael Akers is.”
Akers called working for RHPD an “awesome experience.”
“By the grace of God, I get to work in this place with the loving support of my beautiful wife and very supportive family,” he said. “I’m going to continue to serve this community the best I can.”
Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith spoke briefly as he introduced Bragg and Argo.
“(Bragg) has been with us 14 years. He does a good job, works on the north end of the county in the patrol division,” Smith said, as he handed both their plaques. “(Argo) is our Dispatcher of the Year. She has been with us since 2008.”
Richmond Hill Fire Chief Ralph Catlett introduced Newton, who he said took the lead in helping the department undergo its recent ISO evaluation, a process that determines a homeowner’s insurance premiums.
“Lee was charged with going through and making sure our fire department had everything it needed, and from everything I can see he did a great job,” said Catlett, who has been on the job about a month. “From watching him the last couple of weeks, he is one of the leaders in our fire department and it’s well deserved.”
Bryan County Fire Department Battalion Chief Otis Willis, standing in for Chief Freddie Howell, introduced Cook, Waters and Dixon.
“We went through a rigorous nomination process of who had the most money to give to their peers,” Willis joked before starting.
Cook, the grandson of former longtime Pembroke Fire Chief Jimmy Cook, has been with BCFD since 2012 and serves both with the Pembroke Fire Department and on the county’s C shift in North Bryan.
“He’s been an outstanding firefighter ... and he went out of his way to do the hard work. He finds things to do,” Willis said.
Waters, who also serves on the Pembroke Fire Department, is on the county’s C shift in the North Division and is both a certified firefighter and certified EMT. The brother of Pembroke Fire Chief Peter Waters, he also was one of the few to speak.
“There’re not a lot of times we get recognition, and this is one of those times and we really appreciate it,” he told Exchange Club members. “On behalf of emergency services in Bryan County, thank you.”
Last was Dixon, who Willis said “went out of his way to prove he still had what it takes to be a firefighter. He’s both a firefighter and paramedic with Bryan County and his willingness to work with everyone and in every situation (has helped the department).”
Willis said the three helped a department handle situations over a county split in half by Fort Stewart and limited in manpower.
“All these guys help us be everywhere we need to be,” he said.
Dixon also spoke, thanking the Exchange Club for the recognition while explaining there were others equally deserving.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence by my peers,” he said. “But there are several people deserving of this, (including) my co-worker who is only months away from completing a master’s degree in public health.”
Dixon said paramedics “do things in the wee hours of the morning” that routinely go unnoticed.
He looked out at the room full of public safety officers and said “the passion all of you have for public service, very often the community doesn’t see and appreciate it.”
Earlier, Gough said he learned decades ago the courage shown by public safety workers was worth respect. He was living in his native Britain when a nearby home caught on fire and emergency personnel responded.
During the ensuing moments, he realized it took a special type of person to answer such calls.
“That was when I realized that what you people do each and every day — the bravery, the determination and the commitment you show — I just honestly do not know how you do it,” he said. “I do know I would not be able to cope in that situation.”
The club has been honoring the community’s top public safety officers for 25 years, said Exchange Club member Lynn Bennett.
“It’s easily our biggest meeting of the year,” he said.
On the club’s website, Bennett wrote “all of these recipients, and the other public safety personnel they represent, are owed a sincere thank you from the citizens they serve and protect.”