Having the feeling that he’s able to help his community is one of the many reasons that Lieutenant Stuart Smith enjoys working for the Newberry Fire Department. Smith, who has been with the department for a combined 31 years was recently named Firefighter of the Year by the Newberry County Exchange Club.

Smith said the night started off routine with his shift attending the annual Newberry County Exchange Club meeting.

“They read the candidates off for the award and I was just happy to have been considered,” he said. “I was very surprised.”

Newberry Fire Chief Keith Minick said the Firefighter of the Year was a tradition of the Newberry County Exchange Club dating back to 1964.

Each year, Minick said each fire department in Newberry County has the opportunity to nominate someone from a department along with signatures from others that agree with the nomination. Once those are received, an outside committee looks over each application to score and choose the winner.

“It’s great to see them recognize our firefighters across Newberry County and it’s also great to see members of our department receive that nomination for many years as well,” Minick said. “It’s very rewarding to know that not only was one of our members nominated, but selected overall this year.”

Smith dedicated the award to his father and introducing him to the profession he knows and loves today. Growing up, Smith said his father worked 24 hours on-shift and 24-hours off so he spent a lot of time at the fire department with his dad, hearing stories told by other firefighters and learning the ropes.

“I felt like I had 25 years of experience before I joined the fire service myself,” Smith said.

Smith was a member of the Newberry Fire Department’s junior program prior to becoming a volunteer and eventually joining the full-time staff.

“The program wasn’t as elaborate as it is now, but it meant a lot to me and put on the right path to the direction I wanted to pursue,” he said. “Programs like what we have with our youth really set the groundwork for new personnel that are coming on. When you get someone that already has the training and experience, it’s a really big part of today’s workforce.”

As a lieutenant for the city, Smith said he is responsible for the day to day operations at the Nance Street station and in the absence of the captain, he is in charge of the whole shift.

“If anything were to come up, the responsibility is mine to make sure that it’s taken care of in a timely manner,” Smith said.

Smith said he not only enjoys this part of his job, but also the prevention aspect by getting to interact with the community through programs such as the department’s smoke alarm program that was implemented a few years ago.

“It really gives you the opportunity to feel a sense of helping your community which is the most rewarding,” he said.