By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield Elk Lodge #269 honored local police officers, firefighters, veterans, EMTs and other first responders with a dinner sponsored by various businesses and individuals in the community Sunday evening.
Approximately 175 people attended the event with 125 of them being first responders, according to Jackie Barlow, chaplain with the Bluefield Elks Lodge.
“We started this event nine years ago and it’s in our hearts we are dedicated to doing this for our first responders and veterans,” Barlow said. “We felt in our hearts that this was the least we could do to honor the first responders. I think first responders will think there are still people who care about them and the good work they do in the community. Their dedication takes care of us everyday.”
Members from first responders units from both southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia were present at the event.
“We had delegates from the state, mayors from both Bluefields, and our speaker, Senator Truman Chafin,” Barlow said.
Barlow said the Bluefield Elks Lodge hopes to extend the program by making a first responders dinner part of the national Order of the Elks Lodge schedule of events.
“We would hope to continue this event through the grand lodge and have it recognized through the grand lodge,” Barlow said.
Tracey Fowler attended the event with her fellow members of the Bluefield Rescue Squad. Fowler has been a member of the squad for two and a half years.
“I joined just to help in the community,” Fowler said. “When a call comes in, it’s just an adrenaline rush. You go out and do what you need to do. We appreciate this event for us.”
Wilma Grubb, 65, of Princeton, came to the event in support of the first responders.
“I wholeheartedly support our first responders,” she said. “They do a great service for our community and we greatly appreciate them. It’s not everyday that we give credit to the people that deserve it and they do deserve it for that they do for the community.”
Tammy Collins with AT&T at the Mercer Mall was there as a table sponsor for the event and to give out door prizes to first responders as part of the event.
“We sponsored a table and we have 40 doorprizes to give away to the first responders,” Collins said. “We contacted Bonnie Patterson who organized the event so we could get involved.”
Collins said communication is an integral part of how first responders do their job.
“It’s great for our community to have first responders,” she said. “They do a lot for us and communication is important for them. We hope we can provide communication for the local area as well. This gives us an opportunity to say thank you for what they do on a daily basis.”
Summers County Commissioner Jerry E. Berry was at the dinner representing Concord University. The Eigenwig technology developed at Concord was used as part of the name tags for the event. Berry also belongs to the Elks Lodge in Hinton.
“We heard of this event through our lodge and decided to share the technology we had developed at Concord,” Berry said. “This day is about first responders and we should certainly honor these men and women and the service they provide for our community. We often take our first responders for granted, these people are risking life and limb to make sure we have a better way of life.”
The bluegrass band Bent Hickory, performed during the events. Band member Drew Shinault said the band was glad to perform for a group of first responders.
“We appreciate what they do for people,” he said. “We just hope they enjoy what we do for them. We hope they’ll enjoy the music with their meal.”
Several speakers took the stage at the event, including Bluefield, Va., Mayor Don Harris, West Virginia House Majority Leader Sen. Truman Chafin (D-Mingo), and Bluefield Mayor Linda Whalen, who read a proclamation passed by the Bluefield City Board honoring local first responders.
City Manager Andy Merriman also spoke at the event, honoring Bluefield Police Chief Joe Wilson and Bluefield Fire Chief Kevin Scanlon, who he works with on a daily basis. Merriman spoke of how he spent time with local first responders both in business and as friends.
Merriman noted the change he saw in local fire and police officers when they responded to a call.
“When they get that game face on, when that whistle blows or that radio goes off, it’s unique to watch,” Merriman said. “The one unique thing about all of them is that they are responding to a divine calling. They are their brothers’ keeper and I believe that they believe that every morning when they put that suit on.”
— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline