City, county firefighters of the year honored

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2022

By Denise Strub

Oxford and Lafayette County fire departments have seen an increase of calls this year, according to both fire chiefs, who recently spoke before members of the Exchange Club of Oxford.

The update was given prior to the club’s presentation of the city and county Firefighter of the Year awards and Emergency Medical Responder of the Year award.

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“A lot of things have been going on this year,” said Oxford Fire Chief Joey Gardner. “Probably the most important, at least to the people who work at the fire deparment, (is that) everybody got a pretty substantial raise this year.”

Gardner said he discussed problems with recruitment and retention of firefighters and other issues with the mayor and board of aldermen.

“They approved to give everybody about a $6,000 a year raise. That’s the biggest raise we’re gotten since I’ve been here,” he said.

“This is the biggest raise in 50 years,” said Exchange member Jerry Johnson, former county fire chief. “A lot of them (firefighters) would do it for a lot less because it’s a calling. This mayor and board of alderman have been very good to the fire and police departments.”

Gardner said city police received a raise in February and the fire department in March, followed by the board of supervisors doing the same for the county fire and sheriff departments. “Everyone benefited.”

Gardner added the city has had 2,400 calls as of the middle of October. “Last year at the end of December we had responded to 2,100 calls. That’s a lot for us. We’re averaging about 240-250 calls a month.”

“We’ll hit about 2,000 calls this year,” said Lafayette County Fire Chief Wes Anderson. “That’s pretty unprecedented for us. Five years ago, we had less than 500.

“That major increase is due to medical runs,” he said.

Anderson added the county has hired its first full-time firefighters.

“So we’re responsible for some of those recruitment and retention problems they (city) are having, but we’re glad to be part of that problem,” he said. “We work well together. We’re like a big family.”

Anderson ended his update by informing the club, the board of supervisors approved the spending of $260,000 on medical equipment.

The Exchange Club of Oxford then honored Capt. Matt Tatum as the Oxford Firefighter of the Year, Carter Hillmen as the Lafayette County Firefighter of the Year and Buster Hollowell as the Emergency Medical Responder of the Year.

Club members estimated this event is one the club has been conducting since its beginning 55 years ago. 

It is a program the National Exchange Club has endorsed since the 1940s.

The Exchange Club is a service organization focusing on youth, community service and Americanism. Its national project is the prevention of child abuse.