North Tahoe Fire honors employees, heroes | SierraSun.com

North Tahoe Fire honors employees, heroes

Joanna HartmanSierra Sun
Ryan Salm/ Sierra SunNorth Tahoe Fire Protection District personnel swear to protect and serve.
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Firefighters and paramedics with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District were honored Thursday for their service, and, in one case, for heroism.The district hosted its annual awards ceremony at the North Tahoe Conference Center to acknowledge the men and women who have served five, 10, 15 and 20 years, those receiving promotions and new firefighter-paramedic employees.Scott Whitham, who has been with the fire district for nearly 11 years, was presented by a California State Firefighters Association regional director with a Purple Heart award for being injured while on duty.Its sort of akin to being wounded in battle, said Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw.Whitham recently returned to work with the district after more than a year of recovery and physical therapy following a structure fire accident. Whitham recalls the 4:30 a.m. fire in Talmont. He was the first-on-scene. A piece from the fire hose broke, and propelled by water pressure the hose flew 20 feet across the roadway striking Whithams leg and causing what was classified as a severe crush injury.

Whitham suffered nerve damage to the part of the foot that allows flexing, underwent surgery and extensive therapy to get his health back, but still has a condition making his foot five or so degrees colder than the rest of his body.Its a very dangerous job that were in, said Whitelaw. When you go from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds, problems occur. And unfortunately Scott was seriously injured, nearly a career-ender.Receiving the award is an honor, Whitham said, because he was nominated by his co-workers.I guess the recognition of the severity of the injury it makes you feel good anytime your peers recognize you for something positive, Whitham said.Firefighter-paramedic Jayme Stowell was named Firefighter of the Year, the most distinguished of the awards.Jayme is absolutely phenomenal, not only as a firefighter and paramedic, Whitelaw said. She is credited as raising the level of excellence of our paramedic program through continuous quality improvement efforts.Firefighters, paramedics and other first responders are known and respected for risking their lives for others, he said, and its a nice opportunity when they also get to pat each other on the back for the differences they make, like at the annual awards dinner.Firefighters do dramatic, heroic things, but theyre all real people, who have families and schedules, Whitelaw said.