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A spirit that is not afraid

Opelika Chamber hosts first responder's breakfast

Auburn head basketball coach Bruce Pearl speaks to first responders in Opelika, AL, on Sep. 30, 2022.
Auburn head basketball coach Bruce Pearl speaks to first responders in Opelika, AL, on Sep. 30, 2022.

On Friday, Sept. 30, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce held their First Responder’s Breakfast. Their keynote speaker was Coach Bruce Pearl, and they presented awards to several first responders in the area.

“This breakfast is in honor of these extraordinary men and women who serve in courage and bravery every day,” said Board Chairman Dr. Linda North. “They are truly the backbone of our communities.”

After North’s introduction to the event, attendees ate and conversed with one another until Pearl was called up to speak and show his support for first responders.

“It’s my honor to be here, please don’t thank me for being here,” Pearl said. “It is, indeed, my honor to be here with you this morning to celebrate this community.”

Auburn head basketball coach Bruce Pearl speaks to first responders in Opelika, AL, on Sep. 30, 2022.

Pearl talked about how varied a first responder’s day can look. He said that even when so many emergencies are thrown at them, they are always ready and prepared.

“I’m just coaching kids on how to get a rebound or make a shot,” Pearl said. “You guys are making a difference as to whether somebody is going to live or not. You make a difference as to whether somebody is going to be safe or not.”

After Pearl’s speech, several awards were presented to first responders who had gone above and beyond during their service.

The first award was presented by the Manager of Emergency Medical Services at East Alabama Medical Center, Austin Bayles. The medic of the year award was given to Ben Doughty.

Doughty has been a paramedic for about a year-and-a-half. Bayles noted Doughty’s care skills and bedside manners and said that he always did more than asked.

The second award was presented by Lee County EMA Director Rita Smith. Steven Holden was presented with the Emergency Management Professional of the Year.

Holden is currently a training officer and has received credit over the past year for his work as an FAA-licensed drug pilot in Lee County.

Jason Reeves was presented with the Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year by Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.

Jones noted Reeves’ willingness to do what it takes to protect others. He said Reeves would do any job he was asked to do and that he would do it to the best of his ability.

Jones remained on stage to present Mitzi James with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher of the Year award.

James began at Lee County’s office while simultaneously balancing work at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office. Jones said that James had a level of professionalism that most lack.

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However, this was not all he had to say about James. In 2021, James was diagnosed stage 4 cancer. Through her treatments, James made it a priority to continue serving the people of Lee County. 

Opelika Chief of Police Shane Healey followed to present Grant Gow with the Police Officer of the Year award.

Healey said that when he thinks of a word to describe who deserves this award, he thinks “selflessness.” Gow fit the bill in Healey’s mind because of his desire to answer when called no matter the situation.

The Opelika Dispatcher of the Year award was given to Kole Pagan. Pagan was praised by Healey for his ability to effectively communicate with callers and relay the information to whichever departments need it. He said Pagan’s work allowed first responders to know what they were going into.

Finally, Dennis Hanson was presented with the Firefighter of the Year award by Chief Shane Boyd.

Boyd said it was hard to choose just one firefighter from all of his men. However, Hanson’s dedication to both his job and to growing as a firefighter made him stand out.

Tucker Massey | News Editor

Tucker Massey, sophomore in journalism, is a news editor for The Auburn Plainsman.

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