Lee Gilliland named firefighter of the year

By COLIN CAMERON,

Petal Firefighter Lee Gilliland was named Firefighter of the Year at the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet in January.

The story of how he came to initially join the fire service is certainly an interesting one. According to Gilliland, he never considered becoming a firefighter when he was growing up.

Gilliland went to college with intentions to become a neurosurgeon, and later pursued a degree in engineering. However, he explained that his primary motivation was the high salary accompanying those occupational fields.

“I found Jesus in college and that changed my whole perspective,” he said. “It made me really think about why I was doing what I was doing. That being said, I decided to quit engineering and come home.”

“It was a God thing. I realized I wanted to become a firefighter and God gave me that opportunity.”

Gilliland explained that the job often requires consistent physical conditioning and diligent training to constantly learn new rescue techniques. However, looking back on the past two years, he said the most challenging aspect of the job has ultimately been the unfortunate reality of some of the situations he’s responded to.

“A lot of times we are there to save the day and make a difference, but the truth is sometimes there are situations where there is just nothing we can do,” he said. “That can be had to deal with sometimes, but we are doing the best we can do and that’s all we can do.”

However, Gilliland said that the rewarding aspects of the job far outweigh the challenges. In general, he said that it is the members of the Petal community that make the job worthwhile.

“The community here is just very supportive of the firemen, and make it known that they appreciate what we do,” he said.

“Honestly, it is so rewarding to see little kids go nuts over seeing a fire truck,” he added. “They look at you like you are the king of the world and want so badly to play in the fire truck and learn about all of the different tools.”

For Gilliland, receiving this distinction was unexpected, he said. However, he credits the award to his fellow servicemen that taught and inspired him over the past two years.

“I can’t think of anything I did to deserve this title. All I did all year long was follow the example of those who were teaching me, guiding me and leading me,” he said. “My goal every day was to be more like them.”

“Receiving this award was humbling, and it makes me want to push myself even harder every year so I can be a better serviceman to my community and this department.”