There are many public employees who devote their time and talents to making our communities better places in which to live. America’s firefighters and emergency services personnel are certainly in this category. The National Exchange Club’s Firefighter of the Year Program gives our clubs opportunities to formally thank their local fire departments for their dedicated service while recognizing special firefighters for their actions above and beyond the call of duty. The Firefighter of the Year Program is most often coordinated by a club’s Community Service or Americanism Committee.

Before You Start

Make sure your club has funds budgeted for a Firefighter of the Year plaque and medallion from the National Exchange Club’s Supply Department. The awards can be engraved locally. Also, consider purchasing an Exchange Club Firefighter of the Year roster for prominent display in the local department. The roster consists of a series of plates for engraving the names of annual honorees. Other expenses for the program include meals for fire department members, the honoree’s family, and guests at the recognition event.

Step 1: Discovery

Have your club’s Community Service or Americanism Committee assign a chairperson for the project, and determine your criteria for selecting the honoree. For example, you may want to consider giving special emphasis to a firefighter who has excelled in instances involving children. Develop a nomination form. Contact your local fire chief and explain that your Exchange Club wants to honor the service of the fire department as well as a special firefighter. (Note: Some fire departments may be hesitant to have an individual firefighter recognized. Emphasize that the Exchange Club’s program not only honors an individual firefighter but also shows your club’s appreciation to the entire department.) Review the nomination form and selection criteria with your fire chief, and request that written nominations be submitted from within the department over a three week period. After the nominations are received, review the candidate information within your committee, rank the candidates, and submit your committee’s top selection to your fire chief to establish its appropriateness. Thank the fire chief for their assistance, and review the protocol for contacting the honoree. Also, confirm the date and timing for the event, and explain how many guests your committee has planned for the event.

Step 2: Contacting the Recipient

As directed by the fire chief, contact the recipient. The fire chief will likely contact the honoree’s supervisor first, and it may be appropriate to inform the individual in person during the start or end of his or her shift. If the contact is made in person, consider having several Exchange Club members present for the announcement. Confirm that the firefighter is available to receive the award during your event, and inform the firefighter that a table has been reserved for his or her family.

Step 3: Presenting the Award

Have the Firefighter of the Year plaque, medallion, and roster engraved with the name of the recipient, name of your club, and date of the presentation. The award presentation can occur during your regular club meeting or during a special event. Consider having the fire department’s chaplain deliver the invocation. Before presenting the award, thank the entire fire department for their service, and describe their impacts on your community. (Note: General information and statistics may be available on the department’s website.) Describe the award criteria and the nominating process for guests at the event. As appropriate, read the honoree’s nomination form, or invite the honoree’s nominator to say a few words. Then, present the Exchange Club’s Firefighter of the Year plaque and medallion to the recipient. The honoree may want his or her spouse to pin the medallion to the uniform. Invite the honoree to address the audience, and then thank the firefighter for his or her dedicated service. Present the Firefighter of the Year roster to the fire chief, and invite him or her to say a few words. Close the event by once again thanking the entire fire department for making your community a better place in which to live.

Step 4: Public Relations

Make sure to invite the local media and government officials to the award presentation. It will be appreciated by your honoree and the fire department, and it is always good for promoting your Exchange Club.

Also, consider inviting your Firefighter of the Year to participate in another Exchange Club event during the year. For example, honor the firefighter on an Exchange Club float during a local parade, or have the firefighter serve as a judge (for food, talent, etc.) during an Exchange Club fundraiser.