Tom Butler wins Firefighter of the Year award
HARLAN — Tom Butler remembers his first and last fire call — from a fatal car accident to a barn fire on a Shelby mutual aid call. He’s seen many things over the years.
Butler retired after 34 years at the end of the year. He received one final Firefighter of the Year award from the Harlan Fire Department during their winter banquet in February.
“It was a nice tribute for a send off,” he said. “I joined in 1988 and worked my way up the ladder from firefighter to equipment officer to captain to second assistant chief and first assistant chief.”
He was encouraged to join the department by now- fire chief Roger Bissen, with whom he worked.
“Roger and I were sitting having a break together and he said to tell my wife she wouldn’t have to work that day because her building caught fire the night before,” he said. “I’d been kicking it around and always thought, ‘what if something happens?’”
After researching the city’s insurance policy for employees, Butler decided to go ahead and join.
Butler said firefighting was a rush.
“Every call, you’re thinking, OK, what have we got to do and there’s been times where we have to sit down and discuss what we’re going to do before we do it,” he said.
“When I first got on in 1988, all we did was put out fires,” he said. Now we do fire suppression, medical runs with the EMS personnel, with Medivac, vehicle extrication, water rescue, the list goes on. You never know what you’re going to be doing anymore.”
Butler said age was a factor in his decision to retire.
“At my age getting up at 2 a.m. to go out into a blizzard for a traffic accident is hard,” he said. “I’ll be 69 years old and my body just said it was time.”
“It’s been very rewarding and I miss it,” Butler said. “I’ve got my kids and my grandkids to let me know what’s going on.”
His wife, Diane, said Butler still needs a radio “so he’ll quit pacing and wearing out my floors when they’re out on a call.”
Butler said he was nervous to have his family members be part of the department.
“You never want to see anyone get hurt,” he said. “I worried most about my daughter but she proved herself and she’s very good.”
Diane recognizes the family aspect in a different way.
“The fire department becomes a big family, just like our own family,” she said. “Then there’s another family group within that one.”
The department held its annual banquet in early February, with several firefighters being recognized for reaching milestones — with a 5-year Pin: Patrick Gaul, Jacub Hazen, Connie Miller, Madison Nelsen, Richard Petersen, Allison Taylor; 10-year Pin: Nate Jacobsen; 20-year Pin Kristi Pederson and Tim Pederson; and 35-year Pin Roger Bissen.
Firefighters who have retired and have moved to Honorary Status are: Lieutenant Jordon Sanders 12 years of Service, Captain JR Campbell 21 years of Service, 1st Asst. Chief Tom Butler 34 years of Service.