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Chuck Helm remembers his first call as an emergency responder. He was fresh out of high school when he joined the Adair County Rescue Squad.
"In 1978, we didn't have the radio communications and technology we have today," he said. "You were notified by somebody calling on the phone."
That first call was in response to a 17-year-old boy who had drowned in a creek.
"I found the body and pulled it out," Helm said.
He remembers seeing the family's reaction, and it left an impression on him that he'll never forget.
"That was the time in life that this profession chose me instead of me choosing it," he said.
Thirty-one years later, Helm is the chief of the Raywick Fire Department. He's been trained to respond to situations involving hazardous materials. He's also a certified diver and a fire and rescue instructor for the Kentucky Career and Technical Colleges.
And this year, he was named the Outstanding Emergency Personnel award recipient by the Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce.
Helm said the people who knew about the award kept it quiet. He was surprised, but many who have worked with him are convinced he is deserving of the recognition.
"He's always got the community at heart no matter where he's at," said Bobby Nelson, a captain in the Raywick Fire Department.
Nelson said the fire chief has to look out for the community, and Helm has done that. One example of that is the more than $500,000 in Homeland Security grants Raywick has received during the last four years. Those grants helped the department buy new equipment, including an $180,000 truck.
Because of the grants, the department's share was just $9,000, Helm said.
Equipment upgrades and ongoing training have other benefits beyond just having newer and nicer tools. The equipment has helped lower the ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rating for the City of Raywick from a nine to a six, which means Raywick residents are also paying less for home owner's insurance.
"That has really helped a lot of people out in the city," Raywick Mayor Marilyn Mullins said.
Helm said the opportunity to lower the ISO rating was a result of the hard work of the department.
"It's about the job. It's not about the individual," he said. "That's the way I look at it."
Helm worked in Marion County for years before he moved here about 10 years ago and joined the Raywick Fire Department. In 2004, he was named the department chief.
Some day, Helm would like to find a full-time paid position in emergency management, he said. However, he said he's stayed in Raywick as a volunteer because of the support he has from his family and the community.
"It's a wonderful community ... There is no place else I would rather be," Helm said.
Don Blanford, another Raywick firefighter, said the department is proud to have Helm as its chief, adding that Helm is dedicated to his emergency services work.
"He'd do anything to help anybody," Blanford said. "He's not doing it for the accolades or recognition."
Helm showed that dedication during the aftermath of the Jan. 27 ice storm.
"He took off two or three days of work to help get the roads cleared up," said Tommy Blandford, another Raywick firefighter.
Helm didn't talk about his individual efforts. Instead he pointed out that emergency responders and private citizens all worked hard throughout the county after the storm, adding that "you couldn't list the names in a week" of all the people who helped others during and after the storm.
"It was amazing how all the county handled that," he said.
As the deputy emergency management coordinator and a fire chief, Helm knows that preparation for an incident goes a long way toward how people respond in an emergency. To help with that preparation, Helm helped organize the first Marion County Fire and Rescue School last fall. It's something he and others in emergency services intend to make an annual event.
Again, Helm stressed the cooperative effort by agencies throughout the county as an important part of the success of the fire school.
"It couldn't have happened without everybody doing their share," he said.
He added that many people in the public don't realize the amount of preparation that goes into emergency services. For instance, to become a firefighter I, people have to undergo 150 hours of training. Becoming firefighter II requires 400 hours of training. And for members of volunteer fire departments, attending those training often involves traveling out of town on weekends.
However, all of that training is necessary because of what emergency responders do.
"Any time you work in emergency services, you are going to see things you can never erase from you mind," he said.
Helm added that people may see stories on television or read about the reports in the newspaper when firefighters respond to an incident, but that doesn't convey what they experience on the scene.
At the same time, many people don't realize the sacrifices needed to work in emergency services. In fact, Helm said the hardest part of being in emergency services is the time they spend away from their families.
"They miss birthday parties because the pager goes off," Helm said.
In the meantime, Helm will continue to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in firefighting so that he and his department will be ready to respond.
"When we stop learning," he said, "we stop doing anything."