Churchill chosen 2002 Firefighter of the Year

Mark Churchill of Freeland gets an admiring look from his son, Markus, 7. Churchill, a captain at the Freeland fire station, was named Fire District 3
Mark Churchill of Freeland gets an admiring look from his son, Markus, 7. Churchill, a captain at the Freeland fire station, was named Fire District 3's Firefighter of the Year on Saturday.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Mark Churchill wasn't looking for recognition when he became a volunteer firefighter.

A 17-year veteran for South Whidbey's Fire District 3, Churchill was selected by his peers as the 2002 Firefighter of the Year Saturday at an awards banquet. It was an honor he did not think he qualified for.

"I wasn't expecting the award at all. I had put in another firefighter's name for the award," said Churchill.

Churchill, who is the captain of the district's station in Freeland, was selected from six other nominees, one from each of the district's seven stations. Each station captain votes only on other station's nominees, so Churchill didn't realize he had been nominated.

The award is based on dedication and service to the district. Paul Busch, assistant chief and training officer for FD3, said dedication is one of Churchill's strong suits.

"Mark does a great job for the district," he said. "He has demonstrated through his years in service that he can always be counted on and is dedicated to the district."

Churchill said the award shows him how much support he has from his colleagues.

"This is a real highlight for me. To be named firefighter of the year has a lot of meaning to me. It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by other district personnel."

Churchill has lived on the island since 1981. He and his wife, Carole Ann have two children, Markus and Madeline, and live in Freeland. During his time on South Whidbey, he has helped a lot of his neighbors during the worst times of their lives.

He remembers many rescues and calls throughout his 17 years, but one medical rescue is particularly memorable.

"Two days before Thanksgiving, several years ago, we were able to revive a gentleman, bring him back. I remember him because he wrote a letter telling us how much our care meant to him."

Another call Churchill remembers was a fire in a barn were several propane tanks were venting.

"It sounded like jet engines, roaring," he said. "A rookie firefighter who was holding the nozzle turned to me and said 'This is really scary." I agreed."

Each year, FD3 honors its firefighters, emergency medical and rescue personnel. In addition to those who were named as firefighters of the year in the individual fire stations, Melissa Simmons was named the 2002 Medical Responder of the Year, and Christina Parker received the Emergency Medical Services Inspirational award.

The 2002 Star of Life, given to the EMT who responds to the most calls, went to Matt Czarnik, Freeland.

Several South Whidbey High School also won awards, including 2002 High School Emergency Medical Assistant Elizabeth Smith. Keasha Campbell and Rachele Reading were named 2002 High School Firefighter Recruits of the Year.

For his work on heavy rescues, Jon Gabelein went home with the Leather Glove Award. The Marine Rescue Award went to Logan McInerney, and the 2002 Recruit of the Year was Chris Callahan.

Don Eliot, a winner in the public education category, was selected for helping with fire prevention education in the community. Volunteer Jeanette Hagstrom got the 2002 Support Services award for helping to organize all of the district's social events.

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