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The Scoop 8-19
Saying thanks to Fred Hillis
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The Warren County Commission was a magnet for sound judgment Monday night when it did three things I'd like to celebrate.
Commissioners rejected the moldy symbol of oppression known as the Confederate flag when they unanimously opposed a measure to fly that flag outside our courthouse.
Commissioners also approved a budget without a tax increase after magically finding $600,000 they didn't know about. Considering that trick, I'd like to invite the County Commission to evaluate my checkbook.
Last but not least, the County Commission made the very fitting gesture of honoring former Rescue Squad Chief Fred Hillis, who served for 37 years as director of that organization and about 43 years in all.
I should make my thoughts about Fred clear from the start. He's an upstanding member of this community, a great American, and deserving of any recognition that floats his way.
I had the privilege of talking to Fred on Wednesday to ask him about his years of service with the Rescue Squad. The first thing I wanted to know is how much he earned over the course of 43 years there.
"Not a penny," said Fred, telling me every hour he spent at the Rescue Squad was a volunteer hour.
The Rescue Squad and its roughly 30 volunteer members are responsible for search and rescue missions in rugged terrain and in water. Over the years, they've helped people escape some tight spots.
"We've carried furniture out over our heads in flood waters," said Fred. "This area used to really be susceptible to a lot of flooding in Viola, Irving College, West Riverside and Westwood. We'd go talk to the homeowners and tell them the water was rising and they'd better get out. They would always decline. Then they'd call back an hour or two later and say they needed help."
I've personally covered two emergencies on the Barren Fork River where the Rescue Squad was called into action to save a person from life-threatening water. Both times they were clinging to a tree. And both times members of the Rescue Squad risked their own lives to save the person in peril, venturing into a rampage of rapids when it was the far safer move to stay ashore.
Hillis and the Rescue Squad may best be associated with the annual Christmas Toy Drive, a community wide program which provides local families with gifts. The program was in its infancy when Fred took over as chief. It had only been running about two years and it served roughly 10 families.
As many of us know, the Toy Drive ballooned to serve over 1,000 children at its peak before backing down a tad in recent years.
Fred will be the first to deflect credit and say he couldn't have accomplished much without his many fine volunteers. He's absolutely right.
But any great ship needs a skillful captain guiding the way and Fred Hillis was that man for many years at the Rescue Squad. Thank you Fred for your years of service.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.