YADKINVILLE — Yadkinville native Bryan Southard has been a member of the Yadkinville Volunteer Fire Department since 1986 and has served as the fire chief for the past 10 years. He was recently honored for his tireless work with the fire department by the American Legion. Southard was named North Carolina and Southeast Regional Firefighter of the Year. He came in second place for the National Firefighter of the Year Award.
“The American Legion is the nation’s largest wartime veteran’s association. There are over 1,400 posts in the American Legion system, to be picked out of that many posts speaks highly of Bryan’s record, his ability and the respect he has within the firefighting and rescue community here in Yadkin County,” said David Shore, commander for American Legion Post 336 in East Bend.
Shore, who has known Southard for many years, said he wanted to nominate him because of his heavy involvement in the local firefighting community and his commitment to educating the community about fire safety.
Southard said he was excited and proud to have won the awards, but also wanted to make sure that credit was given to all the local fire and rescue volunteers for the work they do in Yadkin County.
Fire safety, Southard said, is important to “everyone in the fire service.” “It’s not just me, it’s everyone, because they got in here to help people. They don’t want someone to get hurt so they can go help them, we just like to be able to help them before we’re needed.”
Southard joined the Yadkinville Fire Department in February of 1986 when some friends invited him to join.
“I did join and I liked it,” he said. “We see a lot of bad stuff and a lot of stuff sticks with you. I can remember some of the calls back in ‘86, but it makes you feel good when you can go out and help somebody and you can go home and feel good about it.”
A sense of duty to the community is just part of why Southard said he became involved in the fire department.
“For one, somebody needs to do it,” he said. “Two, I may need some help one day myself.”
Southard was presented his awards in Raleigh and was also recognized at a ceremony at American Legion Post 336.
“When David told me that I won the state fireman of the year, I thought ‘well, that’s pretty cool. I like that,’” Southard said. When Shore told Southard he also would be in the running for the Southeast District Firefighter of the Year, he was just happy to have his “name put in the hat” but when he won that award as well he said, “that was real good. I felt good about that.”
At the ceremony at the local American Legion post, Jerry Hendrik, a representative from the National American Legion committee that chose the Firefighter of the Year Award, told Southard that it was a near tie for the top spot. Southard said he really didn’t have words to describe how he felt about winning second place in this national award.
“I was real excited,” he said.
Being recognized as state and regional firefighter of the year, and runner up for the national award, is certainly something Southard is proud of, but his greater sense of pride seems to come from his daily involvement in the Yadkin County fire fighting community.
“In Yadkinville, we’re blessed with people in our community wanting to be in our department,” Southard said. “We have 63 members now and I’m proud of that, but we also run about 1,400 calls a year.”
Southard said additional volunteers are always welcome.
The dedication and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty are qualities Southard said the local volunteer fire fighters had. He mentioned an incident a few months ago of volunteers who responded to a car accident with a fatality. Long after the wreck had been cleaned up and their official duties concluded, several volunteers remained with the family members of the deceased person for two or three hours to comfort them over their loss.
“They could have gone on back home, but they wanted to help the family,” Southard said. “We couldn’t help the victim, but my fireman wanted to help the family so they went on up to the hospital and stayed with them. We’ve got a good group. There’s always something a little extra that they’ll do.”
Another program of which Southard is particularly proud is a granted-funded program that provides free smoke detectors to any Yadkin County resident who requests one.
“The firemen will come and put [the smoke detector] up in your home and the batteries last for 10 years,” he explained. “It doesn’t cost you anything but a phone call.”
Southard said smoke detectors should be changed at least every 10 years. County residents interested in a free smoke detector are asked to contact their local fire department. The free smoke detector program is available at all Yadkin County fire departments.
Southard said for any firefighter it is difficult when there is a fatality involved, but even more so when there is no smoke detector in the home.
“Yadkin County came together to do that [free smoke detector] project,” he said. “We advertised it and then when we go out and there’s a fatality and there’s no smoke detector, you feel bad. Where did we go wrong? We just try to make places where people live safer so we don’t have any fatalities in a house fire.”
Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.