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Firefighters honor one of their own

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RENSSELAER FALLS — First responders gathered Saturday night to honor members and to remember one of their own at the Rensselaer Falls Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department annual banquet.

Firefighters paid tribute to fellow department member Harold L. Phillips, who died Dec. 6 at the age of 70 after he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle in Springhill, Fla.

Mr. Phillips was a member of Rensselaer Falls Fire and Rescue Department for over 30 years, and served as treasurer for 20 of those years. Candles, photos and memorials of Mr. Phillips filled the fire hall. Several firefighters stood up to share personal stories of Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Philips joined the department Nov. 10, 1981. In 1996, he was named fireman of the year. In 1998, he was given the Chief’s Award.

“Harold probably could have gotten the Chief’s Award every year,” Fire Chief Jeff S. Hammond said. “Every year he organized the kids’ Halloween party. He called the local pizza places and had up to 30 pizzas on Halloween night. He did that ever year for the past 10 years.”

Firefighters also recognized fellow members for their service in 2013. Kim Galpin and Second Assistant Chief Mark Bomyea were honored with lifetime membership awards for their over 20 years of service to the department.

The Rensselaer Falls Fire and Rescue Auxiliary awarded the fire department $3,000, and the Rescue Squad $1,000.

The Chief’s Award was given to Fire Department Secretary Karin Blackburn.

“She is very dedicated,” Mr. Hammond said. “She goes above and beyond.”

Mrs. Blackburn also helped organize the memorial for Mr. Phillips, Mr. Hammond said.

They also gave special recognition to Waddington Volunteer Fire Department for the rescue of two hunters on Oct. 4, 2013.

“On that night at 10 p.m., we got a call from dispatch that two hunters were lost near the Upper and Lower Lakes,” Mr. Hammond said. “They went on a hunting trip while visiting their daughters at Potsdam State University. They were supposed to have dinner with them, but they never showed up.”

U.S. Border Patrol officers were able to use computers to track the hunters, while Waddington first responders used their airboat to rescue them in the swamp, Mr. Hammond said.

“They spent four and half hours rescuing them,” Mr. Hammond said. “In the end, they brought them both back safe and sound, with their canoe. For that, we honor Waddington with this plaque.”

Firefighters decided to bring back a special award this year, Firefighter of the Year, which was awarded to Chief Jeff S. Hammond.

“This guy is unreal,” First Assistant Chief Dallas Denny said. “He is at the fire department every day. When I call him about what is going on, he says, ‘Let’s get it done.’”

The squad answered about 60 rescue calls and 150 emergency medical services calls in 2013, which is typical for the busy department, Mr. Hammond said.

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