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Firefighter honored as Washington County's Most Wonderful Citizen

December 02, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown firefighter Stephen Mitchell recently was named Washington County's Most Wonderful Citizen for the volunteerism that crowns his work to protect and promote public safety.

Each year, the Maryland You Are Beautiful program holds a contest honoring county residents for acts of generosity and selflessness.

In addition to working as a career firefighter with the City of Hagerstown, being vice president of the Pioneer Hook & Ladder Co. and member of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, Mitchell volunteers as a fire safety instructor at Children's Village of Washington County, emergency medical technician with Community Rescue Service and is a member of the Professional Firefighters Honor Guard and National Fallen Firefighters Service.

Mitchell's fire station co-workers nominated him for the award because of the "generous, unselfish manner (in which) he gives of himself in service to others," according to their nomination letter.

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Battalion Chief Ron Horn noted Mitchell's strong work ethic and upbeat attitude.

"Steve does his job without complaining, but he's not just an employee - he's a friend," Horn said. "He looks out for all of us. And he's always in a good mood."

A panel of local judges chose Mitchell from an impressive field of about 30 nominees honored at a ceremony in late October, event organizer Paulette Sprinkle said.

"I was humbled beyond compare just listening to what those other folks had done for people. I couldn't believe it when they called my name," said Mitchell, 44, of Hagerstown. "It was a great honor."

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other state leaders paid tribute to Mitchell and the state's other top volunteers during a Nov. 13 ceremony in Annapolis.

The recognition was a surprise bonus for doing the work he loves, Mitchell said.

"I really enjoy my job and helping the community," he said. "It's not about accolades."

Mitchell "got hooked" on fire fighting at age 12, when a fireman handed him a hat and a hose during a training exercise near Mitchell's Montgomery, Md., hometown, he said. Following in the footsteps of older relatives, he began volunteering in the fire service at 16.

Mitchell continued to serve as a volunteer firefighter for 22 years while working full time as a truck driver. He was hired as a fire apparatus operator for the City of Hagerstown in 1998.

Mitchell derives great satisfaction from fighting fires, promoting the importance of smoke detectors, providing emergency medical care and helping the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty during annual memorial services, he said.

But teaching fire safety to young students has provided his most rewarding experiences, Mitchell said.

The lifesaving efforts of one little girl in particular made Mitchell realize that he really was making a difference, he said.

Emily Grimsley, then 9, used the skills she learned in Mitchell's fire safety class at Children's Village to save her family when their home caught on fire several years ago. The youngster crawled on the floor to wake her parents and younger brother so they could escape the early-morning blaze sparked by a forgotten candle, Mitchell said.

"When she used the stuff I taught her to save her family, that had the biggest impact on my career," Mitchell said. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Emily was subsequently inducted into the Life Safety Hall of Fame at Children's Village.

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