The Exchange Club of Columbia County recently named Grovetown Department of Public Safety firefighter James Taylor as the county's law enforcement officer/firefighter of the year.
Each year the Exchange Club accepts nominations from Columbia County's police and fire departments in order to award one deserving officer who has shown exemplary or heroic accomplishments while in the line of duty.
"Just being recognized was an honor for me," said Taylor, who has been a firefighter with GDPS for a little more than a year. "I've just always tried to make a difference and to help people."
Taylor has received four commendations this past year for his use of extrication equipment in car accidents, but what propelled the rookie firefighter past the other nominees was his heroic effort to save an elderly woman from her fire-engulfed home last February.
"I was in my home when I heard the traffic on the radio about a fire and realized that it was next door," Taylor said. "When I found out that an old lady lived there by herself I ran over and got her out."
Taylor's supervisor, Capt. Gary Owens, said that Taylor oversimplifies the experience, stating that he was injured in the rescue.
"In the process of saving the trapped woman and waiting on the fire truck, (Taylor) was on the front porch when an oxygen tank, used by the woman, exploded right by him," Owens said. "He was knocked off the porch and ended up cracking some ribs."
This is the second year in a row that the GDPS saw and officer from its ranks win the $1,000 annual award from the Exchange Club.
Last year, officer Cpl. Robert Eastman won for his overall service and commitment to volunteerism.
"We are very proud of that fact," Owens said. "Both of these guys were very deserving of these awards."
Eastman was recognized for his many activities outside the purview of his job, including volunteering with the Grovetown Rotary Club, the police academy, teaching in local schools and much more.
"They always seem to have some very good people in the Grovetown police department," said Bryan Evans, the president of the Columbia County Exchange Club. "(Taylor) stood out because he saved someone's life above and beyond the call of duty, and, also, he's very active in the community. He's just a good citizen."
Taylor's community interests include volunteering his time working with the Explorer Scouts program, a division of Boy Scouts of America.
"The Explorer Program is for youths that want to learn firefighting techniques," Taylor said. "And then, I also deliver meals on wheels for the elderly."
To further demonstrate their commitment to the community, both Taylor and Eastman donated their $1,000 rewards from the Exchange Club to deserving organizations and families in Grovetown.
"(Eastman) donated his money to a family that lost a loved one in the Sept. 11 attacks," Taylor said. "I took half of mine and donated it to United We Care (a Grovetown organization dedicated to feeding and clothing the needy). The rest I used to pay a lady's light bill, buy a couple of heaters for another lady and buy some food for someone else."
Owens, who submitted Taylor for the Exchange Club award last September, credits Taylor's commitment to training for his tremendous success.
Owens said, "Everyone has the potential to be a hero if they know what to do in the right circumstances."
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