BRADFORD — Two members of the Bradford Volunteer Fire Department were honored by their peers during an annual banquet in December.
Former fire chief and newly sworn-in Bradford mayor Dennis Whitener was named Firefighter of the Year, while Bill Fies was named Outstanding First Responder.
Whitener, who was fire chief for more than 20 years and has served on the department for almost 27 years, was elected mayor during the 2018 general election for the city of about 745 people. Fies is the principal at Trinity Christian School in Bradford. He’s been a member of the Bradford Fire Department for about 19 years.
“As far as the honor of your fellow firemen recognizing you, that was probably one of the best honors I’ve ever had, knowing that they thought that much of me and respected my ability to do the job,” Whitener said. “I’ll always be a fireman. I’m a fireman at heart.”
Whitener, who has worked in maintenance at the Walmart Distribution Center in Searcy for 31 years, said he wanted to run for mayor and used what he’s learned working with previous mayors and the City Council during his time as fire chief.
“We had some younger firemen on the department that I really believe could take the Fire Department to the next level, as far as training and more participation,” Whitener said.
Fire chiefs in Bradford are voted upon by the department, as allowed by the mayor and council, Whitener said.
“The city gave us the opportunity to let the firemen vote on who they want as chief,” he said. “Then he works with the mayor and council. They’ve put enough confidence in me for the past several years that they would always vote for me.
“I thought I could take what I’ve learned working with the mayor and the fire service and all the meeting and training and be mayor. I don’t know if I wanted to slow down. As I get older, I can still help the community. That led me to the mayor’s position.”
The mayor’s position at Bradford is considered part time, and Whitener said he will be in his office at City Hall three to four hours a day.
Fies was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. After retiring from the Navy, he moved to Bradford. He’s been living in his current residence for 28 years. He was 47 years old when he joined the Bradford Fire Department.
“Almost immediately, Dennis Whitener wanted me to not only become a firefighter but also a first responder,” Fies said. “I was 47 when I joined the department; I’m 66 now. It wasn’t physically trying. I guess I did a good job. They didn’t throw me off the department.”
Fies said he is proud of receiving the first-responders award.
“I think it’s a vote of confidence,” he said. “I’m glad they feel like I can handle the job. Of course, everything is teamwork in the Fire Department. Virtually, every call we have, there is more than one person there. I’ve seen everything from pretty routine illnesses all the way through car wrecks and fatalities.”
Fies said being familiar with so many people in Bradford has helped when it comes to being a first responder.
“I make a lot of runs,” he said. “I probably do in excess of 120 medical runs a year in our department. I like being able to contribute to the community. It’s interesting. A lot of people know me. I’ve done several things in the community, in addition to the Christian school. I’m a handyman around town. I’ve refereed basketball in the area. I guess it kind of elevated my exposure.
“At least when I go into a house, most of the time, somebody knows me and is more at ease. The big thing we do, besides the first aid and maybe CPR, is really just trying to help people get through the trauma. When it’s a familiar face, that helps a lot. That’s a big part of having a first-responder group in our department.”
Fies said he enjoys helping people in Bradford.
“We are serving our neighbors and our friends,” he said. “That’s really important to the community, especially in a small town like Bradford.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.