The East Ridge Optimist Club held its Fourth Annual First Responder Appreciation luncheon at the city’s Community Center, Monday afternoon.
Harry Mackey, the club’s president, said the organization devotes much of its efforts in helping to bring out the best in youth, but this lunch is a gesture to those who serve in law and order and the fire services.
“We wanted to show our respect for what they do and show our appreciation,” Mackey said. “Because I don’t think they get too much.”
The highlight of the lunch was awards presented by the city’s fire chief and police chief.
Police Chief J.R. Reed, in awarding Cpl. Bruce Ross the Officer of the Year Award, said he found that during Ross’ long career he was an “honest, ethical and professional officer.”
Ross, who recently retired, said he was honored to receive the recognition. “This means a lot to me,” he said. “East Ridge reminds me of where I grew up. I enjoy the people and I will miss everybody.”
Fire Chief Mike Williams reminded everyone in attendance of the price paid by his “brothers” in the fire service on Sept. 11, 2001. He said Sept. 11 was a sad day and that when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed 343 firefighters perished.
Chief Williams said members of the firefighting fraternity is like a big family and that firefighters often spend more time with their firefighting family than they do at home.
Williams, in presenting the Firefighter of the Year Award to Chris Cope, said “He’s like my own son, and I mean that.”
Cope was one of three East Ridge firefighters that participated in a “stair climb” _ firefighters climb the same number of stairs in full turn-out gear that their brothers in New York did on the fateful day of Sept. 11 _ in both Chattanooga and Nashville.
Cope joined the ERFD in 2013.
The Optimist Club pulled out all the stops in feting the first responders. Ora Citty, a long-time member of the club, said Mackey did much of the cooking, and he did it on one leg, as he fractured his left foot recently.
“We started this to honor the efforts of Sept. 11,” Citty said. “This year we couldn’t have it on the actual anniversary. It’s a way to show our appreciation.”
Young Hunter Wolkonowski, a 17-year-old singer/songwriter from Winchester, Tenn., performed an original composition, “Pray for Chattanooga,” that she wrote the day after five service men were murdered at two different recruiting centers in Chattanooga.
One lyric in her song states, “I pray for Chattanooga and the ones that guard our lives,” an appropriate sentiment for the Optimist Luncheon.
Bob “Happy” Hacker provided patriotic background music on his electric piano as the firefighters and officers broke bread together.