The Statesboro Fire Department honored several stellar employees during its annual awards banquet in February, but top honors went to two men who went "a cut above" in performance, said Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams.
Battalion Chief Merritt Kearns was selected as 2018 Fire Officer of the Year, while Fire Apparatus Operator Mitchell Goff was named 2018 Firefighter of the Year. The two joined numerous others honored during the Feb. 11 awards event.
The Fire Officer of the Year goes to those in leadership positions, while the Firefighter of the Year honors others displaying exemplary service, he said.
Fire Officer of the Year
Kearns, 46, has been with the Statesboro Fire Department 13 years. The married father of three daughters worked as a Savannah firefighter for a year before joining the Statesboro department. Originally from New Jersey, he came to Statesboro when his wife, a college professor, took a position with Georgia Southern University.
He was "always drawn to firefighting," he said. "It is an adrenaline rush" to respond to a fire and try to save people's property and, sometimes, lives.
He enjoys helping people and takes his job seriously.
Kearns stepped up as interim battalion chief after the death of a coworker, and eventually took the role on a permanent basis, Grams said.
As battalion chief, Kearns "looks out for the guys on my shift," he said. There are three shifts, with 13 or 14 members.
Kearns serves as incident
commander when responding to a fire and handles paperwork during "office time."
He even spends his spare time focusing on firefighting, answering emails, fellowshipping with co-workers and keeping fit with daily visits to the gym.
"The city of Statesboro and Statesboro Fire Department are great places to work," he said. "It is a great proponent of furthering yourself, and the programs I have been involved in have helped my personal development."
Firefighter of the Year
Mitchell Goff, 23, is a Bulloch County native who grew up with parents who were firefighters. As soon as he graduated high school, Goff signed up as a Statesboro firefighter, he said.
"I enjoy helping people any way I can," he said.
He was a volunteer firefighter when he lived in Twin City for a time, and has been with the Statesboro department for five years.
Ever dedicated, "I always have my radio on," he said, keeping up with fire issues even when he is off work. He also likes to hunt and fish.
"The (other firefighters) are a great group of people to work with," he said. "It is a family atmosphere, a great way to meet and get to know people, and I am grateful for the award."
Grams praised all his employees, adding that the annual awards ceremony is held "to celebrate another successful year of service to the city of Statesboro and Bulloch County, as well as to honor those within and outside the department who have gone above and beyond in the line of service.
"As the fire chief, it truly is an honor and a proud moment for me to be able stand up on the stage and recognize all of these hardworking individuals for their exceptional service to both the Statesboro Fire Department and the citizens of Statesboro and Bulloch County throughout all of last year," he said. "They say being recognized by your own peers is one of the highest forms of recognition, especially in the fire service, and these individuals tonight are undoubtedly deserving of that recognition."
Employees are nominated for the awards by their peers, Grams said.
"There were several nominees for each award, and all were deserving," he said. "But these two were a cut above — dedicated, committed and driven to serve the community."
Both men "stepped up to fill roles" beyond their usual duties and deserve the honors, he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.