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December 23, 2013

EFD investigator becomes 2013 Firefighter of the Year

EDMOND — Earlier this month a powerful storm made roads slick and hazardous and put Edmond in the deep freeze for days on end.

Several state agencies developed a stranded motorist plan with teams positioned across the state in areas with greatest risk for dangerous road conditions. It included the positioning of warming stations along Interstate 35.

At mid-afternoon, Fire Maj. Gary Dill made some calls and helped create a warming station that was located in a building on the Edmond Fire Department’s campus located near the Covell-I 35 interchange.

“That’s something he saw. He charged forward and in a minimal amount of time he had it up and going for random members of the community,” Edmond Fire Chief Jake Rhoades said. “And that’s what he does.”

During a recent banquet, Dill received the Edmond Fire Department’s 2013 Steven W. Begley Distinguished Service Award, the equivalent of Firefighter of the Year.

Firefighter Brad Powell nominated Dill for the award. In his nomination letter, Powell stated Dill has been an asset to the department in every position he has held.

“He has a passion for fire prevention and for public education and it shows every day he comes to work,” Powell stated. “He has made an impression on countless people in our community from the infants who are riding in safer car seats, to young children going through our safety village, to conducting one counseling with teens who have been in trouble.”

Powell stated Dill puts in long hours to ensure the department has a successful citizens fire academy several times a  year and his personal sacrifices are the reason this program is successful.

Powell also credited Dill with doing things to comfort members and their families during several recent tragedies. They included the loss of Capt. John Werhun, who died in April following a five-year battle with cancer. Werhun is survived by his wife of 17 years and their two daughters.

“I believe Gary is one of the most honest, selfless, and humble people I have ever met and he is a perfect candidate for this award,” Powell concluded.

Rhoades agreed.

“There’s no other deserving,” Rhoades said. “He brings his A game every day. He does the menial tasks no one really knows.”

Dill, who has been a member of the agency for more than 30 years, has investigated hundreds of structure fire incidents. Rhoades said when Dill investigates a case, he knows it will be handled thoroughly and professionally.

“It was very humbling,” Dill said of the honor. “It was a shock. I heard them mention my name and I was like ‘Are they talking about me?’”

Earlier this year, the department honored Dill for his investigative work in a July 2012 call about an explosion at an Arcadia Lake campground.

When Edmond Fire Department personnel arrived on the scene, they found a small smoldering fire inside an RV parked at a campsite. They found two victims with burns — a 35-year-old female and a 43-year-old male.

Both of the victims were transported by EMSA to the Paul Silverstein Burn Center at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center.

Edmond’s hazmat unit responded to the scene as did personnel with the Edmond Police Department. Dill investigated the scene, gathering evidence both inside and outside of the RV.

At the time, Dill said evidence, which included statements from the two campers at the hospital, did not add up to a traditional propane explosion. Evidence seized included materials used to make meth.

Dill’s work contributed to a conviction.  

Rhoades said Werhun’s death and having the educator and wife of an Edmond firefighter impacted by the Moore tornado in a deeply personal way made it a mixed year for the Edmond Fire Department.

On May 19, tornadoes touched down in Edmond and in the Arcadia, Luther and Lake Thunderbird areas among other places. On May 20, an EF5 tornado touched down in the Newcastle area and tracked through Moore.

Successes include the response to multiple tornadoes, completion of an in-house recruit academy and the addition of nine new firefighters, beginning the accreditation process and an analysis of the way the agency is doing business. That includes development of a five-year strategic plan.

Rhoades said the department’s goal is to continue to deliver services at the high, expected level and to improve on that record.

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108

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  • Candidates disagree with White House’s minimum wage

    Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the state needs to have serious growth in high-paying living wage jobs that will provide for Oklahomans.
    Dorman cautioned that while Oklahoma’s jobless rate improved in June, the state’s rankings for the well-being of children has dropped from 36th to 39th place, for one of the largest declines in the U.S., according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project.
    The unemployment rate in June dropped to 4.5 percent, down a percentage point from 4.6 percent in May, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin said this week.
    The state’s unemployment rate was more than 7 percent when Fallin was elected during the brink of the Great Depression. Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, pointed out that per capita income in Oklahoma was second in the nation from 2011 to 2013.
    The non partisan Congressional Budget office reported in February that raising the minimum wage could kill a half-million jobs in the United States.
    According to The Washington Times, CBO analysts reported, “Once the other changes in income were taken into account, families whose income would be below six times the poverty threshold under current law would see a small increase in income, on net, and families whose income would be higher under current law would see reductions in income, on net.”
    President Barack Obama in February signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour.
    Weintz said the governor believes tax cuts have enabled families to keep more of their money.
    No one is talking about the under-employment rate of families working minimum wage jobs, Dorman said.
    “It’s all fine and good when you have fast-food jobs that don’t cover the bills and that counts toward your unemployment rate.”
    Oklahoma’s minimum wage reflects the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, a standard set in 2009.
    Fallin signed legislation this year to prohibit municipalities from raising their local minimum wage above $7.25 an hour.
    “If the minimum wage goes up to $15 in Oklahoma City, all of the sudden you would drive retail, business, service industry locations outside of the city limits and that would be detrimental to the economy, consumers and to businesses,” Weintz said.
    Fallin has said that she opposes raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma because it would stifle job growth for small business and lay off workers. A lot of people earning the $7.25 minimum wage are part-time workers and many of them are students, Weintz said.
    “We believe raising the minimum wage is not a good way to address poverty,” Weintz said. “A lot of people earning the minimum wage are actually people living with their parents or other people who are employed full time, and in many cases they are middle class families. So it’s not a good tool to reduce poverty.”
    Dorman said he does not necessarily support the proposed $10.10 an hour minimum federal minimum wage that is being discussed by Congress.
    “I think we need to have a living wage in Oklahoma that is reflective of our economy,” Dorman said.
    About 102,300 jobs have been added in Oklahoma since Fallin took office in January 2011, according to her office.
    The cost of living in the national economy tends to be higher in some other states, Dorman said.
    So a minimum wage increase should be tied to economic gains so that families can pay their bills and afford to care for their children, Dorman said.
    Independent candidates for governor include Richard Prawdzienski of Edmond, Joe Sills of Oklahoma City and Kimberly Willis of Oklahoma City.

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