Members of Dozier Volunteer Fire Department named AAVFD Firefighters of the Year

By Haley Mitchell Godwin
The Luverne Journal

Most emergency personnel are out of sight out of mind until an emergency arises. Police, ambulance, and firefighters respond when called regardless of the situation. Volunteer firefighters, however, respond on their own time, often after working a full-time job, and receive no pay for their services. They volunteer to keep their community safe, often placing themselves in harm’s way. Two such men recently received recognition for their selfless act that possibly saved three lives.

Chase Burnette and Caleb Hammett, firefighters with the Dozier Volunteer Fire Department, were presented with Firefighter of the Year awards at the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments (AAVFD) 45th annual banquet held Saturday, July 9, in Sheffield, Alabama.

AAVFD President Billy Doss presented Chase Burnette and Caleb Hammett with their awards and gave them each a check for $100.

“These two young men have displayed excellence in the fire protection, emergency services and
rescue operations and the award takes into account their heroic acts when they rescued three young girls that had been swept into the Conecuh River by the current on June 23, 2021,” Doss said.

It was 6:41 p.m. when Burnette and Hammett arrived on the scene just off County Road 77 under the Dozier bridge. Crenshaw County Sheriff Terry Mears was already on the scene and assisted Burnette and Hammett with making their way down to the river.

“I think we kind of had that adrenaline rush that goes along with a situation like that, and I knew we had to just get there quickly, assess the situation, and get the girls out of the water. They were hanging on to the pilings by their fingertips,” Hammett said.

The girls were pulled to safety one at a time with a ResQ Disc, a device the firefighters had trained with that resembles a large frisbee with a 150-foot rope attached.

“The device is pretty easy to use and the disc floats,” Burnette said. “When the fire department first got the device, we played around with it, throwing it out several times to just get a feel for it. My biggest concern was to make sure the girls hung on and did not turn loose of the disc.”

Hammett has served as a volunteer firefighter for the last 15 years. Burnette joined the Dozier Volunteer Department in March 2007. Serving their community is something that both firefighters are proud to do.

“Volunteering and being there for your community just makes sense,”Hammett said. “In small towns like Dozier, everyone knows everyone and if you live here, then you most likely also have family here. If something happens to your family, it is comforting to know that help will be on the way quickly. I am glad we could help that day at the river. We both like helping people, and being in the fire department just gives us the capacity to help people more often. It was an honor when we heard that someone with AVFD had read the article in the Luverne Journal about the rescue and nominated us for the award.”

Helping others and being involved in a supportive community is what pushes Burnette to continue being a volunteer firefighter.

“I am sure all first responders, all over the nation, are honored like we are to be called on when our community needs help. What makes it all worthwhile is the support of our community and I am happy to be able to help people in their time of need and am grateful that our actions that day allowed those girls to go home unharmed,” Burnette said.

Dozier Fire Chief John Joyner said that Burnette and Hammett are very deserving of the award they received.

“They are good guys. Chase is not afraid to do what needs to be done and Caleb is the same way. (Thelostgamer) Sometimes they try and go beyond the safety point when they are in action helping others, and sometimes, I have to kind of remind them to not forget about their own safety,” Joyner said.

Burnette and Hammett are the two youngest members of the fire department, and they fear that in the future the number of volunteers may dwindle. They want to encourage young people to join their local volunteer fire department.

“Many of our members are near retirement age and I hope we get some new members soon. Being on the FD builds character and we all really enjoy being on a team. Teamwork is always an important characteristic to build upon no matter your career choice,” Hammett said.

“It is never boring,” Burnette said. “I enjoy all the action and the diverse things we deal with. We don’t just put fires out. We respond during bad weather, car accidents, or anytime the community needs help. For the younger folks, it can look good on a resume, and I even know several people that started out as volunteer firefighters, and then were sent on to fire college and have made a career out of it. We are also looking forward to helping at the 35th Annual Crenshaw County Rodeo. I really enjoy when we all come together, at the rodeo, with the citizens we serve to have a great time.”

The rodeo will be held Friday, Aug. 5 and Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Tom Harbin Ag Center on Airport Road in Luverne. The Crenshaw County Volunteer Fire Association took over the annual event in 2012. Before 2012, the Kiwanis Club and Saddle Club managed the event. There are 12 fire departments throughout the county that will benefit from the funds raised by the rodeo.

The Dozier Volunteer Fire Department is located at 48 Tyner Road. Members must be 18 years of age or older. If interested in joining, contact a member.