Seal of the Governor
For Immediate Release: February 22, 2023
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Macaulay Porter, Macaulay.Porter@governor.virginia.gov |Virginia Department of Fire Programs Will Merritt Email: William.Merritt@vdfp.virginia.gov

Governor Glenn Youngkin Recognizes Recipients of 2022 Governor’s Fire Service Awards

RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin today announced the recipients of the 2022 Governor’s Fire Service Awards as part of the annual Virginia Fire Chiefs Association Expo and Symposium in Virginia Beach. 

Established in 2002, the Governor’s Fire Service Awards honor excellence in Virginia’s fire service and are facilitated by the Virginia Department of Fire Programs in collaboration with the Virginia Fire Services Board. 

“I am proud to honor these remarkable fire service professionals,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “We celebrate and thank these first responders and support staff for their extraordinary contributions to the Commonwealth.”

“With an increasing demand for service coupled with staffing shortages in both volunteer and career departments, it is important that we recognize these men and women who have a heart for service and routinely display acts of bravery while risking their own lives to save others, said Virginia Department of Fire Programs Executive Director Brad Creasy. “In collaboration with Governor Youngkin and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier, we are proud to recognize these courageous men and women.” 

2022 Governor’s Fire Service Awards Recipients

VIRGINIA FIRE CHIEF OF THE YEAR

Matt Tobia, City of Harrisonburg Fire Department

Chief Tobia is described as a selfless leader who is intelligent, compassionate, innovative and kind. He leads by example and truly cares about each and everyone in the department and community. He is never afraid to help repack hoseline, attend community events, volunteer as a counselor at the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp, or give life advice. A supporting letter from the Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation described Tobia as “an exceptional representative of what defines a true servant leader.” 

Barry Lotts, Riverheads Volunteer Fire Department

Chief Lotts has been an instrumental leader throughout his life providing leadership, guidance, and support to the Fire-Rescue system in Augusta County. With 44 years of service to the Augusta County community, Chief Lotts has gone above and beyond to promote fire safety and grow fire protection for the community as it stands today. Chief Lotts was tasked with creating a new Fire-Rescue organization, the Riverheads Volunteer Fire Department. Since its opening in 2011, Chief Lotts has served as the Fire Chief where he was recently re-elected for another two years. Chief Lotts has also served as President of Augusta County Emergency Services for numerous years, conducting official business with elected officials, county staff, and career fire officers all while running his own land surveying business. Chief Lotts also leads by example, attending training programs across the region and the state, including being a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer Academy. 

VIRGINIA FIREFIGHTER OF THE YEAR

Meaghan Gruber, Loudoun County Fire-Rescue

Firefighter Gruber has responded to several key critical incidents this year where she has championed Loudoun County’s Fire & Rescue system and has won recognition with awards such as LCFR’s Walking Heart for successful resuscitation. Among the more significant incidents Meaghan has been involved with was a fire in Purcellville, where her quick search allowed her to locate a 15-year-old girl in a 2nd floor bedroom and seamlessly coordinate rescue with her team. Her captain also made a mayday call on this incident due to low air. Firefighter Gruber’s actions saved his life, as well as the teenage girl. She always seeks to positively impact those around her, both in the community and in her fire & rescue family. Outside of shift work, Gruber routinely volunteers to help train LCFR’s career and volunteer recruits and has a passion for helping others develop their careers in the fire service.

James Parker, Town of Bedford Fire Department

James Parker has served the residents of Bedford County for over 44 years. James has devoted countless hours to the fire service not only through his responses to emergencies but as a member of countless committees for apparatus design, safety initiatives, and training; all with a focus on improving the fire service for the community and his fellow volunteer firefighters. As someone who is passionate about quality training, James along with several others were instrumental in the creation of an annual county-wide Firefighter I program; a program that remains as a resource to the county’s twelve volunteer companies. James went on to become an Adjunct Instructor for the Department of Fire Programs where he passed on his knowledge to newer generations of firefighters for over twenty years.

EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA FIRE SERVICES

Ryan McGill, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

Firefighter McGill has been at the forefront of making changes to better not only the firefighters in Fairfax, but across the Commonwealth and the rest of the country. He has worked on legislation to further protect firefighters from the effects of cancer, utilizing scientific research that concluded the by-products of engineered wood (oriented strand board) are extremely carcinogenic and were causing firefighters to be diagnosed with cancer. He has also worked closely with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and the International Association of Fire Fighters to raise awareness and educate firefighters on best practices when it comes to limiting exposure to carcinogenic materials.

EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA COMMUNITY RISK REDUCTION 

Jessica Xenakis, Virginia Beach Fire Department

Jessica Xenakis is a Life Safety Education Supervisor with the Virginia Beach Fire Department. Since joining Virginia Beach Fire Department, Jessica has incorporated her teaching expertise into the creation of a new virtual learning resource (www.vbfdlifesafety.com). She also created the VBFD Safety Squad Program, an interactive station-based fire and injury prevention curriculum. The Safety Squad program uses methods of delivery that engage the students to participate in learning risk reduction. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she created and utilized virtual learning resources to provide education to at-risk youths who misused fire. As the Youth Fire Prevention & Intervention Program Manager for VBFD, Xenakis continues to improve educational processes and develop solid working relationships with at-risk youth and their families. She has also expanded the Community Risk Reduction program offerings to residents in the City of Virginia Beach which includes providing a Child Passenger Safety Seat program and helps increase the number of Child Passenger Safety Technicians in the Commonwealth of Virginia as a certified instructor for Child Passenger Safety Technicians through Safe Kids Worldwide. 

EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA FIRE SERVICE TRAINING 

Blue Ridge Fire & EMS Academy

The Blue Ridge Fire & EMS Academy (BRFEA), a joint venture between Franklin, Henry, and Patrick counties, was formed to meet the immediate need for vacancies within the fire and EMS service in the Blue Ridge area. The academy has proven to be a massive success, using regional collaboration and training opportunities that produce qualified employees each year. Acknowledging career academies is familiar; but BRFEA is the first known to have been formed in a rural region, utilizing existing resources while not taking away from the existing training available for volunteer responders. The partnerships created between jurisdictions have also opened the door for future collaboration to better serve citizens in the region.

CIVILIAN EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA FIRE SERVICE SUPPORT

Barbara Morrison, Virginia Beach Fire Department

Barbara Morrison accepted a part time position with the Virginia Beach Fire Department as public information officer, where she has been instrumental in building and maintaining interdepartmental relationships. She utilizes these relationships to help foster interdepartmental collaborations and consistently produces and shares time sensitive and critical information to the public. Her understanding of brand promotion and marketing techniques plays a significant role in the department’s ever-expanding reach within the community. In conjunction with the department’s life safety education team, Mrs. Morrison has spearheaded and advised on countless online fire safety campaigns over the last year. Ultimately, she has helped the team gain over a 200% growth on the department’s most utilized social media outlet, and has created additional accounts for the department on Twitter and Nextdoor. Mrs. Morrison is continually finding new and innovative ways to ensure the department messaging has the greatest amount of reach and impact as possible. Her insight, talent, and desire to assist the community have made her an indispensable part of the Virginia Beach Fire Department. 

PRIVATE SECTOR EXCELLENCE IN VIRGINIA FIRE SERVICE SUPPORT

Steve Weissman, Firefighter Cancer Support Network

Steve Weissman is Virginia State Director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) and has worked tirelessly to ensure that firefighters are educated about the dangers of the occupation related to exposure to carcinogens. Steve has spent innumerable hours educating firefighters across the state on the mitigation strategies and tactics that they can employ to reduce their exposures and their chance of getting cancer. Steve makes sure each Firefighter who is battling cancer is provided with a FCSN toolbox which includes the FCSN signature "Firefighters Guide to Cancer Survivorship.” This manual is full of information on questions to ask your doctor, cancer presumption laws, caregiver information, how to talk to your family and friends about your diagnosis and much more. Equally important though, Steve ensures each firefighter is provided with a mentor (Badge-to-Badge Support). Mentors help guide and provide support to a firefighter who is battling the same type of cancer the mentor battled and beat. Steve himself is a cancer survivor and mentor who has mentored many firefighters providing them brotherhood, comfort, and reassurance as they fight the battle of their life. Finally, Steve has been a key figure in the FCSN establishing a relationship with the Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center to develop an app and conduct a survey of Virginia Firefighters so that they can better understand the dangers Virginia firefighters specifically face related to their cancer risks.

OUTSTANDING FIRE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE

Prince William County Department of Fire Rescue, Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Fire Department, Occoquan Woodbridge Lorton Volunteer Fire Department 

During the winter weather event in January 2022, the Prince William County Fire Rescue System, consisting of the Department of Fire Rescue, the Dumfries-Triangle Volunteer Fire Department, and the Occoquan-Lorton-Woodbridge VFD responded to Interstate 95 and established an ad-hoc rescue and public service effort to handle the stranded motorists, some of whom had been stranded for over 18 hours. Establishing incident command, the combined efforts of the members of the Prince William County Fire Rescue System provided food, water, and medical attention to the citizens. Using station assets, they cleared exit ramps from the highway to allow motorists to exit the Interstate. Compiling supplies from station stocks, they distributed support in food, and water, and when the system's logistics section responded, added blankets and other aid. Through the incident command process, they dispatched assets from their task force to respond to and treat several medical emergencies. In the finest tradition of the Fire Rescue and EMS service, they answered the call without hesitation.

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