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Santa Maria Elks Recognize Valley’s Top Firefighters During Appreciation Night

Honorees of the 37th annual event include Gary Helming, Patrick Youngern, Daniel Haynes, Ryan Mack and Derek McLeod

U.S. Forest Service firefighter Gary Helming was surprised to hear his name called Wednesday night as one of the winners of the top firefighter awards handed out in the Santa Maria Valley.

The 37th annual Firefighters Appreciation Night attracted approximately 250 people to the Santa Maria Elks Lodge, where Exalted Ruler Steve McGehee introduced those giving out the awards for the five agencies.

While some winners knew ahead of time about the awards, Helming was shocked to hear his name announced by Santa Lucia Ranger District Division Chief Nathan Rezeau as the agency’s winner. 

Helming served as the incident commander for the 500-acre Branch Fire in southeastern San Luis Obispo County in 2013 and with limited resources led the force that battled the remote and challenging blaze.

“Above all, he’s a great mentor, teacher and leader,” Rezeau said. “Through all this, he maintains a very level head and positive attitude.”

Helming, who was accompanied to the podium by his son, Riley, expressed appreciation to the Elks for the recognition night and ongoing support of the community.

“To the other firefighters, I hope this serves as that message to us that we need to continue to up our game and continue to earn the trust of the people we serve and protect whether it be from a land-management agency perspective or an all-risk, all-hazard perspective,” Helming said.

His wife, Andrea, also works for U.S. Forest Service as air tanker base manager in Santa Maria.

“We do it as a family love,” Helming said.

Elks firefighters
Derek McLeod, a firefighter/instructor, was recognized with the top award for the Allan Hancock College Fire Safety and EMS Programs during the Santa Maria Elks' Firefighters Appreciation Night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria Fire Chief Dan Orr presented his department’s award to Patrick Youngern, a fire engineer who also is an acting captain. The annual award winner is nominated and selected by the department’s members.

“There is no higher honor than to be recognized by your peers,” Orr said.

The mechanically-gifted Youngern — “Pat was born with a wrench in his hand,” the chief noted — was one of the masterminds in designing what features should be included on the city’s two new fire engines, Orr said. 

“He spent an unbelievable amount of time thinking about how these engines were going to be built,” Orr said, adding the department is proud of its newest additions. “Pat gives 110 percent every single day to ensure the citizens and visitors of Santa Maria received absolutely the finest service that he is able to provide.”

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department award went to Daniel Haynes, a firefighter/paramedic who works at Station No. 21 in Old Orcutt. He also serves as a field training officer for other paramedics and instructor for the agency.

Haynes goes “above and beyond” as he serves compassionately, Division Chief Ray Navarro said. 

While accepting the award, Haynes paused to recognize two of his colleagues.

“The job of a firefighter isn’t individual,” Haynes said. “The job of a firefighter requires teamwork. We use teamwork on every single call we go on …”

Guadalupe Public Safety Director Gary Hoving presented the award to Ryan Mack, a fire engineer. This winner also was chosen by department members.

Mack, who joined the department in 2011, holds associate’s degrees in firefighting and emergency medical services. The chief said Mack recently succeeded in obtaining nonprofit status for the Guadalupe Firefighters Association.

The Allan Hancock College fire safety and EMS programs recognized Derek McLeod, a firefighter/instructor who also works for the Santa Maria Fire Department. 

Fire Academy coordinator Andy Densmore noted the vital participation of full-time firefighters who serve as part-time instructors. 

The program survives “largely through the initiative and selflessness of our part-time staff,” Densmore said. 

“It’s a special breed of character that through personal initiative, identifies a need, a shortcoming or a problem in some area and then makes himself and his personal time available to effect solutions and remedies,” Densmore said. “We’re fortunate to have such people on our part-time staff. Our Allan Hancock College honoree is one of those people.”

The honorees also were given certificates from representatives of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara; state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo; Fifth District County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino; Fourth District County Supervisor Peter Adam; and more.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Face

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