Columbus Fire and Rescue Capt. Todd Graham was honored Thursday as Firefighter of the Year, an honor the Columbus Exchange Club presents each year during their luncheon at Lion Hills Center.
About halfway through his comments, as the 25-year firefighter recalled the sacrifices firefighters are called to make, his voice cracked a bit.
The emotion in his voice was not related to the relatively few life-and-death situations that can require a firefighter’s greatest sacrifice but of unnoticed sacrifices that are a routine part of a firefighter’s life.
“You know, firemen are gone from their families about a third of their lives,” he said, pausing to collect his emotions as he looked toward the audience where he wife, Jeannie, and two of his four daughters sat. “You miss a lot of holidays, birthdays, games and special events. It’s great that the Exchange Club does this for us. It’s really special. But the people who don’t get recognized are the family members. My wife and my daughters, they pick up a lot of slack when I’m gone.”
The theme of family continued throughout program, with both CFR Chief Martin Andrews and Chief of Training Duane Hughes noting Graham’s close relationship with his fellow firefighters.
“Todd has been like a family member and we’re all family members,” Andrews said. “We might not always agree on everything, but we love and respect each other. In order to make it home to our families, we have to work together and nobody understands that better than Capt. Graham.”
“It’s been great working with Todd,” Hughes said. “We have shared many experiences, positive rescues where lives were saved. Todd was there. There have also been times when we weren’t there quick enough. Todd was there with me in those times, too. We’ve grown very close. He’s been to my house and I’ve been to his house. I told him I didn’t know how a man could survive with five women in the house and still smile all the time. That’s just the kind of guy Todd is.”
Graham, 54, is a Columbus native and New Hope graduate. He spent his first three years as a firefighter in Montgomery, Alabama, before returning home to join the CPD, where he has been a fixture at Station No. 1.
He is a member of Mississippi Task Force II, where he has served as instructor of rope and confined space team. He is a member of the CFD’s Haz-Mat, rope and confined space, trench rescue, structural collapse and overland search teams.
“Todd’s not only a great asset to our departments, he’s also a great asset to the state,” Hughes said, noting that Graham is often called to serve as an instructor at the state fire academy. “The fire academy is constantly calling and asking him to teach rope rescue. Here in the community, he’s the guy our industries call to come at and look at their facility and assess rescue plans. He’s somebody you can count on.”
Graham deflected the praise sent his way, choosing instead to praise his fellow firefighters.
“In 25 years, I’ve worked with firefighters from all over,” he said. “But I would take 10 of those guys for any of the guys I work with here. They’re dedicated. They do their job and do it well and don’t ask for anything in return. I think firefighter of the year is a little misleading because it takes all of us to do the job. So I accept this award on behalf of all the firefighters, not just me.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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