By MYRA THRIFT
Staff Writer
Leadership in its finest form, commitment to following protocol and dedication to protect and serve the people of Waycross and Ware County were recognized Thursday as the Waycross and Ware County Exchange clubs honored the men and women who provide a safe environment through their jobs with the public safety agencies here.
There was not a dry eye in the house when Waycross Police Major Chris Tatum broke down as he began to read the nomination for Waycross Fire Chief David Eddins, recalling with deep emotion the night that Lt. Jeff Little died in a house fire on Carswell Avenue, Dec. 15, 2013.
Emotions ran strong throughout the banquet program as honorees thanked their loved ones for their support and prayers.
Saluted were Waycross Fire Chief David Eddins as the city’s “Firefighter of the Year,” volunteer Tommy Tapley as the county’s “Volunteer of the Year,” paramedic Steve Kiser as the Ware County Emergency Medical Service “EMS Technician of the Year,” Firefighter Andrew McGhin as the county’s “Career Firefighter of the Year,” Kandace Hullett as the Ware County Emergency Operations Center “Public Safety Officer of the Year,” Capt. Tommy Cox as the Waycross Police Department’s “Officer of the Year,” and Ware County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Paul Carter as the Ware SO “Officer of the Year.”
After accepting his award, Eddins told the audience he was humbled and honored, but he noted that neither he or anyone who works in public safety does it “… for praise. We do it because we love our community and we love our fellowman and those who work beside us.”
Eddins said folks at the fire department don’t talk much about the night Little was killed because they don’t want to give him up.
“But he deserves to be remembered and honored,” Eddins said as his voice broke with emotion. “They don’t teach you how to handle things like this in training.”
He praised the men who worked beside Little that night, the 9-1-1 operators, the police, the other fire departments and everyone who showed support.
“Keep us in your prayers,” Eddins said. “Keep us all in your prayers. Ask Jesus to watch over those in public safety.”
In his nomination of Eddins, Battalion Chief Donnie Griffis recalled the fatal fire and how Eddins took command of the situation.
“It was the most traumatic event that our department has had to face and deal with for a very long time. It was a tragic accident that affected all members of the department and a big part of the community,” wrote Griffis. “Chief Eddins was on scene when the accident occurred and had taken all of the necessary precautions to prevent this from happening but it was something that no one could foresee taking place.”
Griffis wrote, too, that Eddins was instrumental in the process of healing:  “Throughout the year of 2014 he provided the leadership that our department needed while dealing with it himself and putting the needs of the department before his own well-being.”
Griffis said” “During this time of adversity, Chief Eddins has displayed led our department in moving forward by honoring those that have served and by preparing those that are presently serving for years to come.”
Eddins was honored with a lengthy standing ovation.

•CARTER was born in DeKalb County, but he now calls Waycross home. He is married to Kylie Carter who is also a local law enforcement officer.
Carter began his career with the sheriff’s office in 2010 as a detention officer in the jail. In short order he was promoted to the rank of deputy and attended basic mandate training at the Georgia Regional Public Safety Training Center in Garden City.
“After graduating from the police academy, Carter has continued his formalized training by completing several advanced law enforcement classes focusing in the area of traffic enforcement,” wrote Sheriff Randy Royal in his nomination.
“This advanced training aided Carter in the arrests of two persons and the seizure of illegal narcotics,” wrote Royal. “On this occasion, while patrolling the streets of Ware County, Carter stopped a car for what he thought was a minor traffic violation. During the vehicle stop, Carter became suspicious of the occupants and began further investigation.  As a result of Deputy Carter’s diligence and persistence, a large quantity of methamphetamine was recovered and taken off the streets of Waycross and Ware County.
“Deputy Carter is well known and respected for being a hardworking and dedicated officer who is constantly striving to project the outstanding image of the sheriff’s office and one who takes his job and his responsibilities very seriously.”
Concluded Royal: “Deputy Carter’s dedication and professionalism are a great credit to himself, his family and the Ware County Sheriff’s Office.”

•COX graduated Ware County High School in 1988 and has been a public servant all of his adult life. He served in the United States Marine Corps in Operations Desert Shield and Storm.
After a short period with the Georgia Department of Corrections he was hired by the Waycross Police Department in 1994, where he accepted all challenges placed before him and seized opportunities as they come along.
“He was a quick learner and was an active officer from the start of his career,” wrote Chief Tony Tanner in his nomination.
Cox has been a field training officer, SWAT team member, K-9 handler, shift commander and the overall uniform patrol unit commander.
He obtained advanced instructor certifications in mobile field force operations, firearms, defensive tactics, health and wellness and SWAT tactics instructor.
In recent years Cox re-enrolled in college to finish obtaining the education that he had sought earlier in his life. Cox worked at a steady pace and ultimately acquired a bachelor degree in criminal justice and in 2013 he obtained his masters degree in business management.
The newly achieved college degree would soon be tested because in May 2013, when Cox was promoted to captain, he was placed in charge of the uniform patrol section of the police department. In this position, Cox is charged with the responsibility of supervising 42 officers from the rank of patrolman to lieutenant. These 42 officers are responsible for police patrol coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, coverage provided by four rotating shifts.
In addition to the rotating shifts Cox is also charged with the responsibility for managing the eight-officer bicycle team, the four-officer traffic team, a four-man community response team and two K-9 teams. He continues to serve as the commander for the SWAT team and the Area 8 All Hazards Council’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Team.
He graduated in the 257th session of the FBI National Academy last September, receiving 11 weeks of the finest training a local agency law enforcement officer can obtain. Less than one-half of 1 percent of all law enforcement officers are selected for the prestigious training.
“There are many words that can be used to describe Cox,” Tanner wrote, “words like dedicated, unselfish, caring, role model, leader, motivator, inspirational, knowledgeable, brave, performer, reliable and trustworthy. Those who work with him and know him could give you many more.”
He  and his wife, Melanie Rigsby, have been married 13 years and they have two wonderful daughters, Carrie, 13, and Cassie, 10.

•TAPLEY was born Feb. 10, 1955 in Clinch County, graduating from Southwood School in 1973. The son of Earl and Gene Tapley, he’s the husband of Clara and father of Betsy Ward and Trey Tapley. He has two grandchildren, Sibby, 4, and Maisie, nine months.
Tapley started volunteering in the Southeast District in 2007 and was promoted to the Ware County Structure Team in 2013.
“He is a great firefighter and leader,” wrote Battalion Chief David Thrift. “He is always willing to take on the responsibilities of higher level personnel without the title or pay. He is approached by co-workers with questions on and off the emergency scenes. He is professional and has exceptional work ethics, always remembering to represent the department in a positive light in public.
“Tommy’s efforts, energy and expertise have increased the department’s overall capabilities. With his expertise in heavy equipment operation and construction background, he has been a tremendous asset on the training grounds as well as on many different types of emergency calls.”
When asked what motivates him to be a volunteer, Tapley said: “I am incredibly proud to be part of a group that will put their life on the line for people that they don’t even know … and who will never know you. It is such a great thing to be able to help people that are going through their worst times.”
Tapley attends First Baptist Church and is the owner of Tapley Construction Company. He is active in Boy Scouts of America and has been honored with the Boy Scout Silver Beaver Award.

•KISER has been employed fulltime for 15 years as a paramedic and has for many years served as a captain.
He is an EMS educator, tactical medic for the Waycross Police SWAT team, and holds numerous related certifications. He is an instructor for many advanced pre-hospital care certifications.
Many EMTs and paramedics have been trained under his instruction over the past years.
In his nomination, EMS director Dr. Bill Parham wrote: “Steve has long ago mastered paramedic skills. Beyond that, he has developed into one of the best leaders that Ware EMS has ever had.
“He never asks his staff to do anything that he will not readily do. He is a firm but fair captain and enforces policy strictly by the book. He always makes sure that his team is able to get meals, even if it’s at his expense. He will check on his crew members, by radio, if he is not sure that they are OK. He basically has demonstrated that he genuinely cares about his employees, something that is appreciated by all that know him.
“He is a rare leader that has crew members that choose to follow him out of true respect; likewise he is widely respected by administrative personnel.
“Steve demonstrates the success of hard work, patience and leadership by example. He is a giant in EMS circles in our region and is truly an asset to the citizens and government of Ware County.”

•McGHIN graduated from Ware County High School in 2003. He’s the son of Dale and Marsha McGhin, husband of Jennifer and father to Breanna.
McGhin started as a volunteer for Ware County Fire-Rescue where he served in the Emerson Park District. After being selected from a field of candidates, he met all necessary requirements with the Ware County government and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council for employment and was hired as a career firefighter for Ware County Fire-Rescue Aug. 13, 2012.
Said Thrift in his nomination: “Andrew is dedicated to his career, very much wanting and working to advance his rank and educational background. He provides all Ware County citizens a valuable service using the skills he has developed as a firefighter to save lives and property in this community.
“His willingness to continuously develop his firefighting skills and to help his fellow firefighters and our community in a very professional manner makes him a great asset to Ware County Fire-Rescue and its firefighting team.
“He is becoming a role model and model employee in the department and is well liked by the other firefighters. He displays courtesy and consideration in all aspects of his job, keeps a smile on his face and is eager to do what he can for the citizens of Ware County.”

•HULLETT is a seven-year veteran with Ware County 9-1-1.
“She is very skillful in ascertaining required information to process and dispatch the appropriate response units to calls for service,” wrote 9-1-1 director Fay Cooper, who nominated her. “She is very efficient in utilizing the Emergency Response Protocol for administering pre-arrival instructions to callers with medical distresses. She goes the extra mile to resolve issues with callers or an officer.
“There are times when a citizen may be trying to reach a family member in another city or state and are unsuccessful. Officer  Hullett will go the extra mile making every effort to connect the parties together. She is quite adept at locating information that others might have trouble finding, utilizing the internet and other resources.
“She has a big heart, she’s very compassionate and her kindness is reflected in her performance. She cares — and that is what makes a good 9-1-1 operator.”
Cooper pointed out an incident that exemplifies her diligence. When Hullett received a misdirected suicide call regarding a subject living in Canada, she utilized her resources and was able to make contact with the Canadian services in reference to the person in distress.
“She  always goes the extra mile,” Cooper said.
She is married to Ronnie Hullett and is the mother of four, Kelsey, Joey, Robbie and Justice.
“She also has three beautiful grandchildren,” said Cooper.