Bryan County Emergency Services Director Freddy Howell has been named the 2014 Fire Chief of the Year by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs.
Howell received the award Thursday afternoon in Macon at an annual conference for members of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs and the Georgia State Firefighters Association.
The firefighters who nominated him for the award say he earned the honor.
"He’s the best," said Susan Clark, who’s served Bryan County for 30 years and is currently the Emergency Services chief of administration and also is deputy coroner. "Chief Howell puts his heart into everything he does, he’s just awesome. And he’s very dedicated to the citizens of Bryan County. He wants to do what’s best for them."
Battalion chiefs Deva Strode and Matthew Schultz said much the same. All three nominated Howell for the honor without realizing their co-workers were doing the same thing. "Chief Howell is basically the hardest working chief I know, and
"I’ve worked in the fire service for 15 years and he’s the best chief I’ve known," Schultz said. "He’s constantly doing something to move our department in the direction it needs to go. He’s a fun guy to be around and enjoys the work, he’s very passionate about it. He’s also a good role model, he sets a good example in both his work and his personal life."
Howell also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and will pitch in to get things done, said Strode, who has been a battalion chief for six years.
"In my opinion, Chief Howell is an excellent leader. He’s not afraid to get into the trenches with the rest of us," she said.
Clark said Howell also worked to improve the morale of those who work for Bryan County Emergency Services.
"He is for the employees. He’s for making our facilities and our equipment better," Clark said.
Howell had no idea he’d been nominated, he said Thursday, and clearly had trouble finding the right words to describe what the honor meant to him. It also was clearly a well-kept secret, at least from Howell.
"I’m shocked, emotional, all those adjectives that describe someone surprised about something," he said, shortly after receiving the award. "I had no clue, no clue. They kept it a good secret."
Schultz said that was by design after he, Strode and Clark learned through a phone call that Howell had been picked as the state’s top fire chief for 2014.
"They asked how we wanted to handle it, did we want to tell him or keep it secret," Schultz said. "We wanted to keep it a secret. I’m excited that we could keep it a surprise."
It took some doing, however. Howell didn’t stay for the banquet when the award is normally announced, so arrangements had to be made. Howell’s wife Kathryn was among those informed in advance, and she and her son James joined Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor and Bryan County Emergency Services Assistant Chief Otis Willis in Thursday’s trip up I-16 to Macon to be there when the honor was announced.
The award is named after former Rockdale County Fire Chief Tommy Morgan, whom Howell called "a strong advocate of the fire service."
Howell thanked those who nominated him.
"I’m just humbled beyond what words can say … humbled to be nominated, humbled to be presented the award, humbled to be among those who’ve received this award," he said.
Howell was hired by the Bryan County Board of Commissioners in November, 2012. Prior to that he served as fire chief in both Waycross and at King’s Bay Navy Submarine Base and has nearly 30 years of experience.
County commissioners Carter Infinger and Steve Myers also learned early that Howell had been tabbed as Fire Chief of the Year and both sent out congratulatory messages earlier this week that were nearly identical.
"Bryan County hired the right guy," Myers said.