Spokane firefighter Jhareme Fuller didn’t know until arriving at Thursday’s Lilac Festival luncheon that he was there to be recognized as the firefighter of the year.
And if that wasn’t surprise enough, Fuller’s table included his wife, Carolyn, and four other family members, some of whom had traveled across state lines to be there.
“This was a very big surprise,” he said after receiving the award.
“There are about 300 guys who deserve this more than I do,” Fuller said in reference to the department’s total force.
He was one of 15 people recognized for achievement by the Spokane Lilac Festival Association at the annual All City Civic Military Luncheon at the historic Davenport Hotel.
His parents, Michael and Reni Fuller, traveled from western Oregon for the event.
“As a mom, I was getting all (teary),” she said, pointing to her misty eyes.
“He wanted to be a firefighter since he was 2 1/2,” Reni Fuller said.
Fuller’s wife, Carolyn, put the surprise together with little coaxing. Her parents, Henry and Jeanne Metzer, of Hayden, joined the group along with interim Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer and his assistant, Sue Raymond.
Schaeffer said that Fuller is a key member of the city’s hazardous materials team, a complex and specialized discipline.
Fuller said his unit trains virtually every day to confront any potential accidents that might occur.
Citizens hear most about oil train fires, but there are countless scenarios in hazardous materials training, many of them involving the city’s transportation corridors and the possibility that chemical agents might interact with one another.
Fuller, 41, started with the Spokane department in 2004, but was laid off during city budget cuts later that year.
He took a job with Snohomish Fire District 1, but was able to return to Spokane in 2014 as a lateral hire.
“The family connection here was the big drive to come back,” he said.
In addition to his fire duties, Fuller is a member of the Spokane County Firefighters Pipes and Drums team, which has about 20 firefighter members. They play at funerals and memorial services for active and retired firefighters.
Fuller plays bagpipes and was dressed for the luncheon in his team uniform, kilt and all.
He and his wife have four children.
Thursday’s luncheon speaker was Col. Ryan Samuelson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Samuelson said the Lilac Festival and parade are leading examples of the cooperation and support the Spokane area gives to the military and Fairchild.
He said the level of community support is “unmatched around the nation.”
Celebrating military and civilian heroes in the community is a fitting tribute, he said.
“They won’t tell you they are heroes,” he said of the men and women in service. “They will tell you that is how they were raised, and they are just doing their jobs.”
Here is a rundown of the other award winners:
92nd Civil Engineering Squadron, top unit of the year.
Master Sgt. Jason Clapper, active duty senior enlisted person of the year.
Senior Airman Rachel R. Crofoot, guard-reserve person of the year in junior enlisted ranks.
Senior Airman Shannonrachel Howe, active duty junior-rank enlisted person of the year.
Tech. Sgt. Garry A. McLean, active duty mid-rank enlisted person of the year.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Roberts, guard-reserve mid-rank enlisted person of the year.
Chief Petty Officer Robert Walker, guard-reserve senior-rank enlisted person of the year.
Spokane police Officer Casey Jones, law enforcement person of the year.
In addition, eight educators were recognized from schools with representatives on the Lilac court.
They are Joelle Traynor, Gonzaga Prep; Cory Davis, Lewis and Clark High School; Melanie Heacock, Central Valley High School; Erik Powell, Ferris High School; Ellen Gillespie, Rogers High School; Darren Nelson, Mt. Spokane High School; and Eric Groshoff, West Valley High School.
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