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Margate Firefighter Lieutenant Chris Maher and 14-year-old Seamus Carey of Linwood.

When Clay and Jen Pierce had a fire in their first home many years ago it was an experience they both will never forget. The couple was out of town when the fire occurred. Their pets that were being cared for by a friend were still in the home at the time. By all accounts, the firefighters and first responders were amazing. The firefighters found the pets and kept them safe, all while minimizing the damage of the fire as well as the water to put the fire out.

The couple recognizes it could have really been an awful situation. The Pierces and their family have always remained grateful for their fast and coordinated response of the first responders. The spirit of this gratefulness along with the fact that first responders are always at the forefront of each incident or disaster to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities was all the motivation the couple needed to celebrate first responders in a very special way.

In an effort to show both their appreciation and coordinate a community driven show of appreciation for all that first responders do, Clay’s Climate Control created the First Annual First Responders Contest with the winner being announced on First Responder Day, Oct. 28.

The contest rules were pretty straight forward with community members being invited to nominate a first responder and let the contest judges know some specifics about the first responder and the work they do both on the job and off.

Judges for the contest included Diane Mitchell, a co-host of the 95.1 FM WAYV’s "Mike & Diane Morning Show" and yours truly Joe Molineaux of among other things, Catamaran Media. As judges, we were asked to read all of the submissions. While I cannot speak for Diane, I had a difficult time judging since each and every first responder nominated was so amazing. In the end, the contest winner, based on information provided by the nominee, demonstrated a consistency of the first responders caring for the community both on and off the job.

The winner was Margate firefighter Lt. Chris Maher, who was nominated by 14-year-old Seamus Carey of Linwood. When Jen Pierce called Chris to let him know that he won the contest, Jen said “Chris was speechless and he could not believe he was even nominated.” Even moreso to be nominated by a 14-year-old was really touching. Jen also shared that “Chris was amazed and humbled by the impact he had on Seamus.”

I caught up with Chris and Seamus right after the announcement was made to dive a little deeper into this unique relationship and how and why Seamus decided to nominate Chris. Catamaran Media is also printing the letter Seamus wrote.

The connection between Chris, who was lifeguarding at the time, started over nine years ago. Seamus was 5 at the time and was a frequent beachgoer along with his mom, Lisa. The original meeting between a very curious Seamus and Chris that lead to everything Seamus shared in his letter almost never occurred. Chris was actual stationed at a beach that Seamus did not frequent, however that one summer day, nine years ago, Chris was filling in for another guard on Seamus’ beach.

To listen to Chris and Seamus talk about those early days brought smiles to both of their faces. Not mentioned in Seamus’ letter were the ways they both learned from one another. Chris describes Seamus as a remarkable young man. Not only is Seamus an accomplished and nationally recognized surfer, but he also is in tune with the needs of the community and has an understanding of how to help those in need.

For Seamus, watching and learning about the work Chris does became very real when on a surfing trip to South America that the duo, along with Seamus’s mom and a number of other area surfers. A surfer not with the group but who was surfing alongside them broke his fibula. Chris immediately sprang into action and put his first responder training into action. Seamus recalled the incident as the first time he witnessed Chris at work and learned a number of things about remaining calm under pressure and relying on your skills to help others.

I would invite you all to read the winning nomination letter that accompanies this story. It tells the story from the viewpoint of our youth and demonstrates how important it is for the people around us to take the time and share your time and talents with those that can and will follow in our footsteps. While the genesis for learning about Chris and Seamus may have come from an opportunity to celebrate first responders, the lesson we can take form it is far reaching.

The timing on Chris’ contest win could not come at a better time with a house renovation that did not account for a new furnace (the prize provided by Clay’s Climate Control). Chris and his wife, Jess, are also expecting their first child in late December. Seamus and Chris both agree that the time they spent together will help Chris be more prepared for fatherhood. Chris added that Seamus will make a great babysitter.

The idea of Clay’s Climate Control making this an annual contest is something that will increase the number of nominations and the community's opportunity to thank those for keeping us safe and also going above and beyond what is expected to make our communities wonderful places to live.

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