By JB Clark
TUPELO – Firefighters routinely respond to traumatic calls like gunshot wounds, but when they turned the corner at Crosstown on Dec. 23, they knew that call was different from any they had been on A Shift before.
Firefighters on Tupelo Fire Department’s A Shift were able to help keep fallen Tupelo Police Officer Joseph Maher alive after he and Sgt. Gale Stauffer were shot following a bank robbery that afternoon. Their quick response is why the entire shift was nominated for the Mississippi Burn Foundation’s Firefighter of the Year award.
“When you see something like that, you’re in shock at first but you have to gather yourself because you have a job to do and you have to put all your training and education together and get back into the business of saving lives,” Sgt. Ron Allen said.
Firefighters Jacob Quarles and John Belk were able to get to Maher and provide trauma relief as soon as they arrived on the scene.
Fire Chief Thomas Walker said he nominated the A Shift for the Firefighter of the Year award because they went above and beyond the call of service that day. The shift reached the level of finalist, with the award for Firefighter of the Year going to Wally Bruce, assistant fire chief for the Palmetto/Old Union Volunteer Fire Department.
Walker said everyone involved that day were heroes.
“The police officers that were shot that day are definitely heroes in what they were doing and the firefighters who responded are too,” Walker said. “They won’t admit it because they’re just doing their job but knowing they had a part in helping sustain a life made me feel like they went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Walker was right – Belk said they were just doing their job.
“It’s very humbling to receive this award,” he said. “We didn’t do this for recognition but it’s kind of nice to be recognized for your hard work.”
Allen said they responded to the scene the same way any other Tupelo firefighter would have, they just happened to be the ones with the honor of helping the fallen officers.
Capt. Andrew Hooper said he was honored to be nominated for the award as a team.
“It’s unique to be nominated as a group but it makes sense because everything we do, we do as a group – a minimum of two people,” Hooper said. “It’s a testament to what we do and can do as a team, especially since it’s normally an individual award.”