WESTERLY — When asked their thoughts after being named winners of the Watch Hill Fire Department annual awards, all four recipients had the same answer: it’s a reflection not of their work, but of the fire department family.
“It was definitely a surprise. We are a team and everyone is in this together — everyone should be recognized,” said Capt. Jane Perkins, who was named the Officer of the Year.
Perkins was one of four members honored during the 2018 annual banquet in late March. Deputy Chief Jason Simmons was named Firefighter of the Year, Raymond Elterich was recognized as Member of the Year and Lt. Christopher Koretski received the Carl Greene Award.
Both Koretski and Simmons said the annual banquet provides a chance for the department to honor some of its hard-working members and recognize those volunteers who go above and beyond.
Perkins, a school safety consultant and columnist for The Westerly Sun, was among the most dedicated members of the department in 2017. According to the agency, she responded to the most calls, had the highest number of training hours completed and served more time on standby than any other member. Officials indicated that in 2017 she responded to 67 percent of all alarms, was part of 93 percent of all training exercises and served 775 hours on standby.
“The way I see it, I volunteered for this,” she said. “I volunteered to be trained, volunteered to go to calls. It’s what I signed up to do.”
Perkins joins her father Robert Perkins and brother Aaron Perkins as winners of the annual award. Robert won in 2012 and Aaron was recognized in 2001.
A retired 36-year Connecticut law enforcement official, Elterich said he was humbled by the recognition and did not expect it. The 68-year-old is a 12-year resident of Misquamicut with his wife Sandra — the couple have five adult children and six grandchildren — and has been with the Watch Hill Fire Department for nearly a decade.
He is also a captain with the Misquamicut Fire Department, where he has served since moving to the community.
Elterich was the department’s second most active responder by going to 62 percent of all calls, attended 51 percent of all training sessions and covered 335 standby hours, third most by a member in 2017.
“There are so many here who step up to the plate and anyone could have been recognized,” he said.
Simmons, a 45-year-old father of two, said it was a source of pride to be named the department’s firefighter of the year. He said his sons, ages 5 and 4, have already shown a strong interest in firefighting and the award only served to make them proud of what their father does.
“Hopefully I’m just the next in line in the family. They are already showing interest,” he said. “Being a firefighter is very rewarding.”
A second-generation member, he said he never joined the department to win awards but rather to carry on a family tradition of public service. And serve he has — in 2017, he went to 37 percent of all alarms and was the second most active training participant by attending 91 percent of all sessions. He was also second in standby hours served, finishing the year with 341 hours.
Although now a full-time employee, Koretski served as a volunteer with the department through November. Koretski, 24, said he firmly believes the award could have gone to several different members and noted he was humbled to be recognized.
Koretski was active in community outreach programs including the Honor Flight program, assisted in coordination of the Greek Week activities in which the department joined several other Rhode Island agencies to host critical training for firefighters with the Union of Hellenic Fire Service Volunteers, based in Athens, Greece, and remains one of the more active members of the department.
According to agency records, he responded to 61 percent of all alarms, attended 47 percent of all training exercises and contributed 270 hours of standby coverage. He was the third most active member of the department, and all this was done over the 11-months before he was hired as fire marshal.
“It sounds cliché but I couldn’t have done it without everyone else here at the department,” he said. “Everyone plays a role and while I may have held some leadership positions, they were the ones who did the work.”
In addition to recognizing those in the department, the agency also uses the annual awards banquet to thank organizations or families in the community who go above and beyond to assist the department and its services. The Charles Desillier award, named for “Uncle Shep,” according to Koretski, was given to the Nichols family.
Koretski said the entire family has donated time, space and services in recent years to help keep the department functioning as efficiently as possible.
George and Joanne Nichols operate the St. Clair Annex in Watch Hill alongside their son James, a volunteer firefighter. Koretski and Elterich each said the family participates in many ways, whether it’s watching James’ children so he can respond to calls and participate in training, offering food or services for department events, or hosting family nights for the members several times a year, free of charge.
“They truly go above and beyond anything we could ask for. They are more than deserving,” Koretski said.