Policeman and Firefighter of the Year named

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Buffkin named DPD Officer of the Year

The City of Darlington Police Department held its annual awards ceremony Thursday, December 21, and recognized officers for achievements in public service, training, and education. The day’s top honor – Police Officer of the Year – went to Lt. Steve Buffkin, a 39-year veteran of the DPD.

Lt. Steve Buffkin receives his plaque from Chief Danny Watson.
Photo by Samantha Lyles

“I love my department. I’ve never worked for any other department and I don’t care to…my heart and soul is with Darlington,” said Buffkin, noting that he has turned down offers to serve as Chief of Police in two smaller communities because he prefers to stick with Darlington.

Inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement by his dad, a “no gray area” motorcycle patrolman who retired from the Florence Police Department, Buffkin’s career has taken him from auxiliary officer to patrol commander, and he currently serves as the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Mayo Magnet School for Math, Science, and Technology.

“I taught the DARE program for ten years, and I love working with children… kids are honest. They will tell you what’s on their mind,” said Buffkin. “I’ve worked with Cain Elementary and the middle schools, and I’ve done SRO work for probably fifteen years. Now I’m at Mayo and I love it. I just love talking with the kids and helping them when I can.”

That affection seems to be mutual. Recently, Buffkin had to take a medical leave and underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery, and he says he received numerous texts from Mayo students during his recovery inquiring about his progress and when he would return to the school.

Buffkin has served with four different Darlington chiefs – N.G. Dudley, Roy Williams, Jay Cox, and current Chief Danny Watson, who will retire in January after 24 years with DPD. Buffkin voiced his hope that the next Chief will be promoted from within the department, noting that Darlington has never brought in an outsider to head the agency.

A new addition to the awards ceremony this year, Sgt. Phillip Cox of the SC National Guard presented plaques to Anthony Boan as Officer of the Year, Buffkin as SRO of the Year, and Watson as Darlington County Person of the Year. Cox said he felt Watson deserved this distinction due to his focus on community outreach work, which included multiple charity drives to provide canned food, fans, heaters, and wheelchair ramps for the less fortunate citizens of the county.

Chief Watson thanked his officers for their dedication, and expressed his belief that while police work is often a thankless job, “99.9 percent of people who do what we do are great people. I’ll put our profession up against any other in the world as far as their share of bad apples versus ours,” Watson said. “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you. I wish that I had the words, but I just don’t.”

Watson also received a warm farewell from Darlington City Council member Carolyn Bruce.

“He’s been nothing but helpful for me, not only with the city, but whenever I would call him to help me and talk with the kids at the Darlington County Intervention School (where Bruce works as a career counselor), he or Kim Nelson have never said no,” Bruce said. “Chief, I appreciate what you’ve done for me and the kids in the school, and also what you’ve done for the city. Your leadership definitely is going to be missed.”

DFD names Perry Kelly Firefighter of the Year

The City of Darlington Fire Department has honored two of its members for their outstanding service during 2017, naming Lt. Perry Kelly as Firefighter of the Year .

DFD members vote each fall for one of their own to be named Firefighter of the Year, and Chief Pat Cavanaugh says Kelly was the clear choice of his peers.

Lt. Perry Kelly
Photo by Samantha Lyles

“Normally the votes are close, 7 to 5 or 8 to 4, but this year 19 of 20 votes (went to Kelly). It was almost unanimous that people felt Perry was the best person nominated this year,” Cavanaugh says. “He’s an EMT, an instructor for the State Fire Academy, and he’s almost ready to test out and become a pastor. Perry does a lot… the Lord blessed us when he came here.”

Kelly began his career in the fire service 26 years ago. He volunteered for 13 years and worked as a paid fireman for 12 years with the Darlington County Fire District, and he joined the DFD just over a year ago. He recalls being 18 years old and running calls with veteran fireman Autrey O’Neal, and getting a real taste for the excitement and sense of community service firefighting provides.

“The biggest thing is knowing that when (fire victims) are losing everything, somebody’s got to be there to help them,” says Kelly. “Seeing a kid’s face when you hand them something they thought was gone, bringing a portrait out of a house that’s burned, pulling something valuable from a fire when people think they’ve lost everything…that’s a big blessing, to see those people feel a little bit of hope.”

Deas wholeheartedly agrees, adding that it means a great deal to be able to help your neighbor, working to ensure the safety of their lives and belongings through the devastating trauma of a fire.

“If your neighbor’s home is burning at two in the morning, you’ve got to go help them. That’s what the fire service is about, being there for them at the worst times of their life,” says Deas.

Kelly has also brought some new ideas to the DFD regarding fundraising for charitable programs, like the department’s annual Toys for Kids Drive. This year, Kelly established the inaugural “Taste of Christmas” event, which recruited over 30 cooks and raised about $2,300 to help purchase toys for children in need.

The Volunteer of the Year award is sponsored by retired fireman Bill Garland, and nominees are based on training, number of call responses, and aid to the department beyond the scope of daily work. The 2017 winner, Firefighter Johnny Deas, says his 30-year history with the fire service began when he was working with EMS.

“I responded to a fire call and just caught the bug,” says Deas. “I started as a volunteer, became a treasurer and a lieutenant and moved up through the ranks.”

Deas reached the rank of Captain and left the DFD in 2000 to work as safety director at the Darlington Raceway, and when he left that position a few years back, Cavanaugh welcomed him back to the department’s volunteer roster with open arms.

“When I was coming up, Johnny was one of the firefighters that I wanted to be like,” says Cavanaugh, praising Deas’ extensive knowledge of firefighting procedure and his peerless reliability. “If you could take the knowledge and commitment that he has and impart that to the kids we’ve got here, this department would be unstoppable. He and Perry both have a drive and a passion for this work that is really something special.”

Both Kelly and Deas say the close camaraderie at the DFD makes it a great place to work.

“They treated me and my family like family when we first got here and made us feel welcome,” says Kelly, adding that his two sons love coming to the station. “When my kids come up here, they treat my kids like their kids. And my six year-old just lives and breathes the fire service now.”

“When you join the Darlington Fire Department, all the members put their arm around you, and you become a brother or sister,” says Deas. “If you have a problem, you know there are thirty people that have that problem. If you’re experiencing hardship, they’re right here for you.”

Author: Duane Childers

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