Cassin named firefighter of year at UVFD event

Mayor lauds Howards, more for longevity

Julye Keeble

Staff writer

Though he was home with pneumonia, Will Cassin was named Firefighter of the Year for 2019 at the Uvalde Volunteer Fire Department annual banquet.

Cassin, a UVFD member for seven years, was credited for putting his life on the line to protect and save the life of Rodney Reagan, attacked by bees in 2018.

“Sometimes during the course of the year we have more than one heroic thing happen, and this might have gotten overlooked but we decided not to. In April of 2018 at 4:21 p.m., four miles south of Uvalde on Highway 117, we got a call of a man being attacked by bees. We were dispatched, the EMS was dispatched,” said Richard Williams, of the Uvalde Volunteer Fire Department.

“The man was already on the ground, and he got his gear on. This is not one hundred percent protection. … You have to make the decision, so he made the decision to get his bunker gear on, get out and rescue this man, where about 30 bees followed him into the EMS unit,” Williams said. “He didn’t have an air-pack.”

Williams recounted how the victim was prone on the ground and so covered by bees other first responders failed to even see him when they first arrived on the scene.

The award was made Thursday night at the banquet, held at the Uvalde County Fairplex. Cassin was previously named UVFD firefighter of the year for 2014.

This year, the annual celebration was dedicated to the families of the firemen.

“On the front of our program, it says that it is dedicated to the spouses of the fire service, and this evening that’s what I would like to do. I would like to honor the wives of firefighters, because they are true unsung heroes of fire service,” said Patrick Williams, president of the UVFD. “They’re the ones that pick up slack when we leave in the middle of making dinner or run out in the middle of birthday celebrations. … You’re the ones that put the little ones to bed and assure them that daddy will be back in the morning.”

Crediting his wife, Andrea Williams, and last year’s speaker Dr. Harry Watkins, with the idea of honoring spouses, Williams continued, “I also realize that we have some firemen that aren’t married and their mothers are involved in their lives and picking up the slack as well.”

Paul Stephens offered the opening prayer, stating, “John 13:15 says ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.’ So many times that’s put on firemen but as Patrick was talking, how many of the wives lay down their lives, only to have the men run out the door? They have to lay down their lives and keep things going…”

Guest speaker

“You volunteer firemen really are the Swiss Army Knives of public service,” said Mark Huffstutler, CEO of Lancair International, and event guest speaker. “There’s not anything you can’t do when it comes to emergencies.” 

He praised firefighters nationwide, relating an anecdote involving his daughter, in California who called him upset that a leak in her roof in a thunderstorm might cause her house to flood, and seeking his assistance.

It was three days before Christmas, and she was thousands of miles away. As he was unable to offer personal assistance, he was inspired to suggest she contact the local fire department, who came immediately.

“I saw my tiny little grandson having the time of his life with four firemen in the living room, it was the highlight of his holiday,” Huffstutler said, relaying he saw the scene through photographs taken by his daughter. “My daughter was totally relieved and the crisis was averted.

“It leaves us all with a warm sense of security to know that in times of need, you are just a call away.”

Service awards

The Uvalde Volunteer Fire Department has been in existence for 127 years, involved in the community and helping with civic activities as well as fighting fires or rescuing victims trapped in vehicles after crashes or stranded in water.

“I know sometimes you think [your service] it’s not appreciated, but it is,” said City of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin Jr., presenting service awards to Aaron Moore, Rafael Marines and Mac McLaughlin, honoring five years of service each; Mario Rangel for 10 years; Tom Brewer for 25 years; and Jimmy Joe Howard for 40 years of service volunteering with the department.

Roy Joe Howard has been volunteering with the department for 55 years.

Patrick Williams said he took a vote via text message, deliberately excluding Howard, to approve the purchase of a Nascar-branded red Pellet Barbecue Grill to be assembled this weekend and presented to Howard in recognition of his dedication and years of service with the department.

Richard Williams said on June 15, 1964, when Roy Joe Howard joined the department, the fleet was limited to two 1941 Fords and a 1957 International fire truck.

Howard worked to grow the department for years.

“He doesn’t want to think that he’s the leader – but we all recognize him,” Williams said. “He’s always the first to get it done. He’s a good example to all of us.”

Williams related how Howard made or obtained equipment for the department. He made a tool to pierce the side of a railcar to help deal with frequent cotton fire calls from the railroad, and 10 years later the fire service officially implemented a similar tool.

Howard has always been forward-thinking, Williams said, relating how Howard asked the Uvalde City Council for $5,000 dollars when the department first became aware of the Jaws of Life tool. The department received the funding in less than 90 days and obtained the tool.

Other recognitions

UVFD member Juan Martinez was selected as Fireman of the Year last year for his heroic efforts during the Aug. 12, 2018, flooding in the Park Chalk Bluff area, being lowered from a helicopter to provide life jackets and care to victims of the event.

As he was not present at the celebration last year due to his son’s illness, Williams asked that Martinez stand and be recognized this year.

Williams also led attendees in singing “Happy Birthday” to celebrate the eighth birthday of Martinez’s son, Jaxson Martinez. Jaxson’s mother, Judy Martinez, filmed her family as a layered chocolate-frosted cake was brought to the family’s table, complete with candles

The evening ended with the installation of new officers. Gene Ayala is fire chief; and Todd Dorris, Mario Rangel and Justin Schmidt are assistant chiefs.

Taking over from Nick Ayala Jr., Mark Zamora Jr. is the 2020 UVFD mascot. Patrick Williams is president; Heath Sutherland is vice president; Mario Rangel is secretary and publicity director; Juan Martinez is treasurer; Paul Stephens is chaplain; Beco Diaz, fire police; and Mac McLaughlin, athletic director.

Training officers are Will Dalrymple, Juan Zamora, Gilbert Ayala and Patrick Williams.

The board of directors consists of Neal Brewster, Juan Maldonado, Richard Williams, Mario Ortiz and Justin Deorsam; and members of the pension board are Paul Stephens, Patrick Williams and Juan Martinez.

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