By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun
On Monday, May 6, the Exchange Club of Kern Valley honored three extraordinary individuals as 2018 Firefighters of the Year with a special dinner and ceremony held at the Paradise Cove Lodge. Normally held in January or February, this year’s event was held a bit later than usual due to the Federal Government shutdown, “so it was postponed…to fire season!” declared Ross Elliott, the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
The room was full with honorees both past and present from all three branches of the service – Kern County Fire Department, United States Forest Service, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management – as well as members of the Exchange Club, and government representatives who all came to show their appreciation for all that our firefighters do for the valley every year.
After a welcome by club President Fred Clark, invocation by Sherry Van Matre and flag salute by Jack Connell, the dinner got underway, and diners were soon very entertained by Fred Roach, retired from the USFS himself, who regaled the crowd with a rousing game of Kern County fire history trivia that stumped many and left a few feeling a little red in the face.
Then it was time to present the awards. First, Dionisio Mitchell, Battalion Chief for KCFD spoke of this year’s honoree Chris Bryski, from Kernville’s own Engine 67, for “dedication to his job, to his community, and to his family,” making special note of all the time Bryski donates in his off hours to helping coach soccer and softball, as well as help out at Wallace Elementary and Middle schools, where his children attend, even though he maintains a busy schedule with the KCFD. “I don’t know how he does it,” said Mitchell. “There must be three of him.” Bryski took the mic and said a few words, giving praise to his engine crew, as well as the other departments that he works with in the valley.
Next, USFS Kern River District Ranger Al Watson spoke of the impressive 37-year career of Isidoro Solis, Helicopter Superintendent for this region. Not only does Solis manage the highest utilized helicopter firefighting program, many from base at Kern Valley Airport, but he has trained, mentored and managed units in Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Brazil, Jamaica and others, being instrumental in teaching effective firefighting techniques around the world. Now in his “retirement,” Solis is getting ready to move to Washington DC to continue working as a member of the International Programs. Watson also noted that he is “very happy that we live in a valley that knows the importance of agencies working together. It’s very special here, and we should all hold on to that.” Solis, with grandson on his shoulder, thanked his team for “all their hard work and dedication.”
Last, but certainly not least, Gabe Garcia, Field Office Manager for BLM, spoke about “consummate professional” Ruth Ellison, a BLM Fire Mitigation and Education Specialist since 1992. In her role, Ellison has been the point person for practically every event in the area, from notifications of burning piles and fire restrictions, to serving on the Fire Safe Council, to going to schools and community events to educate the public on fire safety and land management. Ellison, small in stature but mighty in spirit, will be retiring from her office in October, when she plans to move “home to Alabama to spend time with family.”
Field Representative Tim Carothers gave special certificates of recognition to the honorees on behalf of AD 26 Rep Devon Matthis, as did Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason. Fred Clark wrapped up the evening by stating, “every citizen thanks you for what you do, every day of the week,” a sentiment that was echoed by everyone in the room, as well as across the Kern River Valley.