Exchange Club honors 2022 Firefighters of the Year


Local first responders were honored Thursday as part of the Exchange Club of Tuscaloosa‘s Firefighter of the Year Program.

This program started in 2000, making this year’s ceremony the 22nd annual presentation.

Awards are given this time of year because it’s National Fire Prevention Week and National Fire Prevention Month.

There are three firefighting entities within Tuscaloosa County: Northport Fire Rescue, Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue and the Tuscaloosa County Fire Protection Association, which consists of 21 volunteer fire departments.

“I’ve never really gotten up and tried to do this to get any kind of recognition,” said Hassell, who was named the 2022 Volunteer Male Firefighter of the Year. “I do it because one, I am a Christian and two, I try to look at it as what would I want someone to do for me if I were to find myself in the same situation. ”

Susan Harless was honored as 2022 Volunteer Female Firefighter of the Year.

“It’s an honor to do it,” Harless said. “And that is the truth. It is an honor to get to do it. To be honored today, it is rewarding also. There are lots of people who would deserve this just as much.”

Hassell works for the Romulus Volunteer Fire Department and has been a firefighter for 25 years. He said saving lives makes everything worthwhile.

“There was a house fire where we were able to save a person’s dog out of the structure that had been on fire,” Hassell said. “The gratitude that the homeowner had for us saving their dog was more than appreciative. You could really feel that they cared about their animals as much as they did their own loved ones. Being able to get those animals out of the house, it really stood out.”

Harless is with Fosters/Ralph Volunteer Fire. She’s a retired registered nurse and said she knew when she retired her days of helping others weren’t over.

“I got involved in running with the fire department when COVID hit,” she said. “When COVID hit, it hit a number of our volunteers. I asked the Lord how can I use my skills to help people in my community.”

She said when some of the volunteers who ran medical calls were stricken by COVID, she knew that was her opportunity to continue using her medical skills and help those in need.

Northport Fire Rescue’s Lt. Phillip Blazer and Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue’s Apparatus Operator Brian Sloan were also recognized.

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