Midlothian residents gathered to thank the heroes that don't wear capes at the Everyday Heroes Luncheon on Monday.
Midlothian firefighters and police officers who went above and beyond to serve the community where recognized by their department chiefs as well as community members who excel at supporting the department's in their missions to serve the community. The lunch was organized by Michelle Fisher, advisor and program manager for Tarleton State University Midlothian.
“We want to thank you. What you do is a calling. You all leave your families every day to serve us,” Fisher told the firefighters and officers at the lunch.
The Fearless Firefighter and Top Cop awards honored the first responders who went above and beyond while on the job.
Police chief Carl Smith recognized training coordinator Ruben Pereida with the Top Cop award. Besides encouraging new recruited and supporting current officers, Pereida finds ways to meet department needs every day, Smith said.
“Just this last week, with his relationship with QT, 10 to 15 pallets of bottled water arrived at the police department to keep our officers hydrated and healthy,” Smith said.
Pereida is always ready to step in when volunteers are needed, from grilling hundreds of hamburgers for the 2015 National Night Out to directing traffic at the corner of Highway 1387 and Walnut Grove Road when Heritage first opened and the light was not operational, Smith said. And he stepped up again to make the community feel safe after Missy Bevers was killed in April while preparing to teach a 5 a.m. fitness class.
“He was one of the officers who volunteered to come out at 4 a.m. so those fitness instructors and participants would see a police officer. He would get out and introduce himself and that continued for months,” Smith said.
Midlothian Fire Department's Fearless Firefighter is firefighter Scott Spalding, fire chief Dale McCaskill said, offering a story to illustrate why.
One day a call came out over the department system to alert firefighters at home of a call coming into the station. A grill in the backyard had caught the porch on fire, he said, and the flames were spreading to the roof. McCaskill said when he arrived on scene the fire marshal was starting to set up the scene but no fire trucks were on site yet.
“Two people came up to me and said 'Your firefighter is doing a great job,' but there were no firefighters there. Then, through the black smoke, I see a bald headed firefighter with a green hose. He was using a garden hose to hold the fire at bay. That was Scott Spalding,” McCaskill said.
Community members who supported the departments were awarded the Back the Blue and Back the Red awards.
The Back the Blue award went Rhonda Welch, safety coordinator for the Midlothian ISD. While her job puts her in daily contact with the School Resource Officers stationed at the district campuses, Welch does far more than her job requires, Smith said. The state requires all departments to have a training board, made up of residents, to oversee the department's training, he explained. Welch serves the department on that board, he said, helping to ensure officers are prepared to handle their duties.
“I can't tell you how many times she has organized for students to drop off cards and letters to the department supporting us,” Smith said. “She has reached out to us to let us know she is there for us and praying for us.”
Tom Manning, a member of the Emergency Service District Board No. 2 for the area of the county served by the Midlothian Fire Department, received the department's Back the Red award. The fire department's funds come from the city but also the ESD board because the department responds to areas outside of the city limits, McCaskill said.
“Without the ESD board and Tom's help, we would not be the department we are today,” McCaskill said.
One of the most significant times the board has supported the department was in 2008 when the city was trying to utilize a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants grant to add six new firefighters to the force. Because of the economic downturn, the city was not able to match the grant and was in danger of losing the grant.
“Tom and the ESD board stepped in and made sure we got the grant because they knew these firefighters would make the city and the ESD safer,” McCaskill said.
Firefighter Ted McPherson was awarded the Fire Department's Spirit of the Community award for his efforts to bring traditional bagpipes to community celebrations and starting the department's bagpipe core. The award honored a firefighter who got involved in the community outside of their job duties.
McPherson started by learning to play the bagpipes himself, McCaskill said.
“It sounded like he was trying to skin a cat in the beginning, but he has gotten to the point he is very good,” McCaskill said.
He had mastered his first several songs when Ethan Hallmark's family asked him to play at their son's funeral after he died of cancer at 13 years old, McCaskill said.
“There were 3,000 people there. He was nerviness, but he took his bagpipes and his kilt and he played Amazing Grace. Everybody felt it,” McCaskill said.
McPherson has continued to encourage other firefighters to join the core and plays at many city and community events each year, McCaskill said.
The police department's Spirit of the Community award recognized an officer dedicated to serving the community outside of their official duties. Officer Wes Keeling helped start the department's K9 unit through Universal K9, an organization that rescues shelter dogs that can be trained as K9 officers.
“Recently, Wes has gone on to receive training to become a regional trainer for police departments and is bringing a lot of positive interactions with other police departments,” Smith said.
After learning more about what rescue dogs can do, Keeling began working on his own time with pets in the Midlothian Animal Shelter.
“He volunteers at our shelter to help new owners train their animals and help them acclimate to their new homes,” Smith said. “He also does demonstrations several times a month. I sign his time sheets each week and I never see those on there.”
Receiving community support like the lunch is a great indication of the respect the community and first responders have for each other in Midlothian, Smith said.
"In the current political environment, it is hard for law enforcement to feel supported. But Midlothian is different," he said. "We feel our organization has a great relationship with the community."
– Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BethanyKurtzMidloMirror or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.