By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
The Kern River Valley reveres the fire departments and individual firefighters who year after year keep lives and property safe from the frequent fires that threaten our community. The Exchange Club of Kern Valley was proud to honor these teams for their bravery and accomplishments on Monday, January 29, at its 11th annual firefighter appreciation dinner at Paradise Cove Lodge.
Recognized at the dinner were the Kern County Fire Department (KCFD), and fire management departments of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Firefighters of the Year for each agency were selected by their peers and awarded this designation for outstanding achievement at the ceremony.
Honored as 2017 Firefighters of the Year were Brian Powers from KCFD Station 76 in Kernville and the Rio Bravo Hotshots, Daniel Wild of USFS Engine 45 in Havilah, and James Rooffener of BLM South Fork Engine 3133.
Guests were warmly welcomed by Exchange Club President Pat Turnham and Event Chair Ross Elliot. After a delicious dinner and an entertaining “Firefighting Quiz” led by Fred Roach, presentations by fire department leaders described the outstanding attributes of each honoree.
Firefighter Brian Powers was praised by KCFD Battalion Chief Dionisio Mitchell for his sacrifices acting as temporary foreman of the Rio Bravo Hotshots during a time of need last year. Referring to nearby Powers Peak which was named after Brian’s grandfather Bob Powers, Chief Mitchell joked that that Brian is a “big deal around here” for having land features named after him. Powers expressed gratitude to his family and to the firefighting department leaders who molded and shaped him to who he is today.
USFS Battalion Chief Carl Sarubbi said Daniel Wild epitomized the core principles of duty, respect, and integrity, and teaches them to his crew. He was described as having a “can do” attitude which makes it hard for him to decline any assignment asked of him. With genuine humility, Wild said he was not comfortable being on the same list as the prior Firefighters of the Year, saying what he does best is emulate them.
Honoree James Rooffener was attending a training session at Vandenberg Air Force Base, so he was unable to accept his award in person. BLM Field Office Manager Gabriel Garcia said Rooffener stepped up to act as captain for their South Fork station and showed exceptional leadership abilities which has recently led to his being promoted to its permanent captain.
Certificates of recognition were presented to the Firefighters of the Year by Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason, State Senator Jean Fuller’s District Coordinator Pam Rose, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s Field Representative Keenan Hochschild.
Hochschild praised the firefighters and the community for their recognition of them, saying, “I can’t think of any community that treats their heroes better than this valley, and I can’t think of any place that has so many people worth being celebrated than this valley.”