Staff photo by Dean H. Borgwardt
COTTONWOOD Fire Department Capt. Jerry Doerksen (right) was named Firefighter of the Year, a prestigious statewide honor. His son, Camp Verde Fire District firefighter Geremy Doerksen, (left) said he is proud of his dad.
The 27-year veteran firefighter was selected by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Jerome Lodge No. 1361, during their 2002-03 annual award for Law Enforcement Officer and Fire Fighter of the Year which culminated at its statewide celebration held in Phoenix recently.
"This is quite an honor because it comes from the Elks Club," he said. "This group is generous with their support of the community. For them to choose me is really an honor."
Doerksen said that the award isn't just for him, but for his family as well. Being a firefighter is demanding, often dangerous work. Firefighters typically spend one third of their lives away from their families while on duty.
"Families give a lot when a spouse is a firefighter," he added. "A good deal of the time is spent away from home. It can be difficult."
Firefighters on duty miss family events, school productions, ceremonies and sometimes birthdays or anniversaries.
In addition to being awarded Arizona's Firefighter of the year, Doerksen said the Elks also donated $500 to the charity of his choice.
"My choice for the donation was Arizona Children's Burn Camp in Prescott." His voice lowered to a serious tone as he said, "This is where severely burned children gather and get to do activities with firefighters. These children are disfigured from being burned and we get to work with them doing projects and having fun. It is a very successful program that is run basically on donations."
Arizona Children's Burn Camp in Prescott, also known as Camp Courage, is a place where children surviving traumatic burns get a chance to camp, play games, swim and scuba dive ride horses and make friends.
The Foundation for Burns and Trauma Inc. in Phoenix coordinates and runs the camp, with the help of many sponsors and volunteers. Counselors include firefighters from every fire department in the state. The children attending the camp range in age from 6 to 15, and their experiences range from first-timers to eighth-year participants. Sadly, children suffering severe burns often must undergo surgeries for the rest of their lives, as scar tissue does not grow like skin.
Cottonwood Fire Department Chief Mike Casson said, "We are ecstatic about this award and we are very proud of Jerry."
He added when he submitted Doerksen for the award at the local level he didn't expect it to go to the state level.
"What he has done for the fire department -- helping to develop the paramedic service and the training programs, he has made a tremendous difference in the quality of service we provide as a fire department."
He said that Doerksen's efforts in orchestrating practice burn buildings for training has made firefighters in the Verde Valley area a well organized, highly skilled team of professionals.
As a training officer, Doerksen orchestrated the acquisition of abandoned buildings in the Cottonwood area for live fire training in the Verde Valley and Sedona. Firefighters practice cutting vents, punching holes in walls and experience crawling through small areas by removing gear.
"The different live fire burns enable firefighters to experience different situations because of the different buildings we had been able to use," Doerksen said. "It's not quiet the same thing at the training center allowing us to enhance our training."
Doerksen's son, Geremy, a firefighter with Camp Verde Fire District said he is proud of his father and, "I hope someday I can win this award too."
Mike Brushingham of Cottonwood is the vice-president with the North District Arizona Elks Association. He said that this is about the seventh year of the Law Enforcement Officer and Firefighter of the Year award program.
"We ask law enforcement officers and firefighters to submit names for the award. The 43 Elks lodges in Arizona select one of each for the entire state."
He added that the Elks will hold their Emergency Services Night on Sept. 10 at the Jerome Lodge in Clarkdale.
"We recognize emergency services personnel that night and say thanks," he said "We put our lives in their hands and we appreciate them."