By Samantha Lylesslyles@newsandpress.net
Members of the Darlington Fire Department cast their votes each year to recognize outstanding service by both full-time and volunteer firefighters, and 2019’s honorees are both examples of the dedication and professionalism DFD is known for.
Firefighter of the Year Ronald Page joined DFD three years ago as a volunteer, and has served over a year as a full-time member.
His quick assimilation of firehouse routines and on-site protocols wasn’t a surprise to Chief Pat Cavanaugh, who recalls that he tried for several years to recruit Page into the service, noting that he had a feeling Ron would be an asset to the department.
Page says that even though he enjoyed hanging around the station and has some fire service lineage (his great-grandfather was Aiken’s fire chief in the 1920s), it took him a while to make the leap. Once he made the decision, he committed fully to the job and validated Chief Cavanaugh’s instinct.
“In the time that (Page) has been here, he has excelled at every task assigned to him. If I send him for training with 10 different people from 10 different fire stations, he usually scores the highest,” Cavanaugh says. “He’s intelligent and has the drive to succeed.”
With typical aplomb, Page jumped in feet first. He says there was a learning curve to overcome, having never fought fires before, but the training and support from DFD personnel helped him assimilate quickly and become very efficient.
“It used to take me an hour to go over a fire engine (checking and optimizing all systems and equipment), and now I can knock the fire engine out in maybe thirty minutes,” Page says. “Now, when guys tell me that they feel good seeing my name on the inspection sheet because they know things will be right, that just makes me want to try even harder…I put a lot of emphasis on perfection.”
Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Seth Cavanaugh literally grew up going to fire scenes with his grandfather Michael “Bull” Cavanaugh and father Pat, and he says he loved every minute of it.“As a young kid, every time their pagers would go off, I’d want to jump in the truck and go with them to the fire and see what it was like. I would watch them work and watch all the commotion, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” Seth recalls.
Now 18 with two years of volunteering to his credit, Seth got an earlier start than most aspiring firefighters. He enrolled in DFD’s Explorers program at age 14 and started formally learning about the fire service.
“Explorers come up to the station and help check trucks, learn what firefighters do, and when you turn sixteen you can take South Carolina Fire Academy classes. It helps give them a leg up in getting a job in the fire service,” says Seth. “It also helps keep kids off the street and out of trouble.”
With volunteer firefighters, they have the option to respond or not when a call goes out. Even with school commitments while pursuing his EMT certification, Seth managed to get out to 83 of 93 fire scenes last year. This dedication resonated with his fellow DFD members and earned their respect and recognition.
“Seth is a third generation firefighter. Ever since he was a kid, this was all he wanted to do,” says Chief Cavanaugh. “Even when I’m not here, he comes up to hang out with the guys. He takes classes, keeps learning all the time. There are full-time guys who say they put more stock in what Seth says than in some of the more experienced volunteers who don’t come around much.”
“Even some of the full-timers at other stations say that,” Page adds, noting that even before becoming a volunteer, the younger Cavanaugh was always quick to offer assistance checking trucks and doing tasks around the fire station.
Both Page and Cavanaugh agree that the best thing about serving at DFD is the camaraderie and fellowship among the station’s personnel.
“This is the best group of guys in the state. I’d put them up against any other department any day,” says Seth.
“It’s definitely a team-centered environment where we all work together,” Page adds. “It makes everything go smoothly when everyone knows what they’re supposed to do.”
The Darlington Fire Department Firefighter of the Year award is sponsored by American Legion Post 13, and the Volunteer of the Year award is sponsored by retired firefighter Bill Garland.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Explorers program or volunteering opportunities is welcome to call the Darlington Fire Department at 843-398-4013.