VALDOSTA — Firefighters, law-enforcement officers, community-service members and others are among the list of 18 nominees for the 2018 Red Cross Hometown Heroes Award nominations. 

Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk nominated Lt. Joe Dukes of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office for the public health and safety award.

“Any job you give him, he does very seriously and does a good job,” he said. “He’s just a hardworking person that’s been with the department for quite a while and does a great job. I just felt like he needed some recognition.”

Duke, who’s been with LCSO for 18 years, has been in law enforcement for a total of 25 years and heads LCSO’s training division.

While a young child, Duke received inspiration to enter the field from a police officer that assisted his family. He said he’s extremely dedicated and committed to the career choice.

His first reaction was embarrassment when he learned of the nomination, he said, and said hero is one of the highest titles that a person can be deemed.

The Exchange Club of Valdosta nominated Living Bridges Ministry co-founder Darcy Gunter for the adult Good Samaritan award, said Brittny Hammock, president.

Gunter was nominated last year by the Red Cross, but she didn’t win, Gunter said.

“I would say that her role (to help) the underserved in our community makes her an ideal candidate as a hometown hero,” Hammock said.

Living Bridges Ministry is a series of programs that assist people who are in need under the guidance of Gunter and her husband and co-founder, Tony Gunter.

“Living Bridges does good work, but it’s more than one person,” Gunter said.

Tech. Sgt. Seth Barta of Moody Air Force Base was nominated in the military category by Major Jason Egger. He said there are more deserving people for the nomination than himself.

“I don’t personally think that I’m worth it,” Barta said. “I think that there are people better suited for it. I’m just doing what I’m trained to do.”

Chief Freddie Broome of the Valdosta Fire Department nominated six VFD members for various awards including Firefighter Michael Penland, Lt. John Herpin and Lt. Dereck Willis.

“They are always willing to go above and beyond their normal duties to protect and to serve the community,” Broome said.

Penland's nomination for adult Good Samaritan came from rescuing a woman from a dog attack January 2017. He awoke from a nap when he heard the commotion outside of his window.

“There were two or three people watching it, and I decided to get in, I guess,” he said.

The woman suffered stitches from the dog bites but Penland said she was OK. He said it feels really good to be nominated.

“It’s nice to accomplish something like that and get, not necessarily the praise for it, but get recognized for it,” he said.

Herpin, who’s nominated for the fire-rescue category, saved a 10-year-old boy from a house fire April 2017. He illustrated the incident as emotional.

“We happened to be in the right place at the right time when that call came in,” Herpin said. “That was a very emotional night. It was very fortuitous for us to be a block away.”

Herpin said he trusted his crew to fight the fire while he entered the house to save the young child.

“I was able to locate him in the bedroom,” he said. “I isolated us by closing the door to the bedroom.”

He said they exited through a window. He said he was proud of his crew to allow him to make the decision he did.

It was Willis’ support of his coworkers during the hurricane season that led to his nomination for emergency response.

“While the firefighters responded to calls, he was out trying to get them water, trying to get them food and making sure they had everything they needed to really continue to provide the level of service they were providing,” Broome said.

Willis has been with VFD for 21 years and currently works as a fire-prevention officer, investigating and inspecting fires. The Valdosta native said it’s an honor to be nominated for a hometown award in his hometown.

“I guess (Broome) thought whatever I did that day was deserving enough,” he said. “It’s an honor in knowing we come to work every day to try to make bad situations better.”

Other nominations include Valdosta Fire Department members Lt. Justin Ply, Sgt. Darren Williams and Lt. Jeffery Talley; James Mondy of Moody Air Force Base; Joyce Gates and Deborah Robson of Valdosta State University; Shannon Floyd of the Valdosta Police Department; Tina Daniel of Georgia Power; South Street Community Care House; TEACH Outreach Ministry; Boy Scout Elijah Cantrell; and local resident George Aigen.

The Hometown Heroes Award Dinner will be held 6 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center. For ticket information, call (229) 242-7404. 

Amanda Usher is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. She can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1274.

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