Newton Fire/EMS is a family. That fact was made abundantly clear at the department's annual awards ceremony Thursday night.

Before new hire Garrett McEachern was officially presented his badge, his relatives were asked to stand and earnestly welcomed to the family by Division Chief Phil Beebe — an extended family they can now rely on for support. Then, there was the recognition of the almost parent-like preceptors who mentor staff going through paramedic training.

Of course, fire departments are also routinely thought of as a brotherhood, and Newton Fire/EMS honored not only its own, but its fellow brothers around Harvey County at the ceremony — presenting the Hesston and Halstead Fire/EMS departments with a community partnership award.

Sense of family is not only important within the department, though, as emcee Lt. Luke Edwards noted Newton Fire/EMS wants that commitment and dedication to be felt throughout the community.

"We want to do more than what's expected," Edwards said. "We want to be a reason Newton is a good place to live."

Highlighting the assistance received both within the department and throughout the community, presenters at the ceremony continually praised the collaboration of everyone involved that played into the honors doled out Thursday.

Starting within Newton Fire/EMS — from longtime employees to the roles filled by each team within the department (i.e. community paramedicine, marketing, fire prevention, etc.) — service to others was recognized in nearly every form imaginable, starting with the community partnership award.

For years (since the early 1990s), Newton Fire/EMS has had a mutual aid agreement with the Hesston and Halstead departments. Two years ago, that agreement was upgraded to an automatic aid agreement (where those departments would cover Newton's stations) for instances in which Newton's department was paged out on in-city structure fires.

According to Division Chief Cory Lehman, the departments in Hesston and Halstead responded to Newton more than 100 times in 2017. Most notably, those departments were relied on for assistance during a fire at the Mid-Kansas Coop on the edge of North Newton on Nov. 16, 2017 — both in responding on scene and in helping cover the Newton department's other responsibilities during that time.

"Hesston and Halstead not only helped at the scene, they also covered the next five or six calls throughout the evening and into the night," Lehman said. "Just because we had one large event going on, there's still other calls that need to be tended to. This is a partnership that Newton Fire/EMS is very proud of."

"That's been going on for about two years and we just kind of wanted to acknowledge that we appreciate all the times that they've come to help us out during those structure fire operations," Edwards said. "If we have a heavily involved fire that's requiring all of our on-duty units to be there, then we really rely on Hesston and Halstead personnel to cover us during those events."

Russ Buller, Hesston Fire/EMS Chief, noted that is a two-way street, as Newton is quick to support Hesston as well. That need for collaboration and support is a reality all departments face and while he said it is nice receiving this honor from Newton, he plans to continue strengthening that partnership further moving forward.

"While Newton is recognizing Hesston and Halstead for supporting their responses, it's also important to know that they come and help us routinely and keep us going as well. It's definitely reciprocated and appreciated both directions," Buller said. "Will we continue to develop that and stand behind that? Absolutely. We'll work together with them from now on for sure; there's no question."

Newton Fire/EMS also got some key help within the department this past year, not only with McEachern coming on staff, but with Zac Lujano and Wayne Helms completing training to fill two vacant fire investigator positions this year. All three had plenty of responsibility thrown on their shoulders immediately, and their superiors commended their work under those conditions — like McEachern helping in the MKC incident on his fifth-ever fire call.

Examples of that kind of commitment were also recognized among more experienced personnel Thursday through the Excellence in Leadership award given out by Newton Fire/EMS Chief Scott Metzler, which went to Division Chief Lehman this year.

Helping start the disaster medical service unit and working closely with the community paramedicine team, as well as being in charge of logistics for the department (trying to secure funding with the budget support team), Metzler praised the model set forth by Lehman.

"Leadership is more than doing a great job. Good leadership encourages others to be more than they can be," Metzler said. "His leadership has helped us to develop an effective and compassionate response to a long-standing problem. His professionalism, his personal integrity and his work ethic are exemplary."

Again, the collective department was lifted up in Lehman's acceptance of his award, as he noted that his goals changed when he took over as division chief two years ago and it has been a team effort in helping meet those new goals.

"The goal became how can I get better equipment, how can I get better facilities, how can I get a better fleet for our guys so they can do their job better," Lehman said. "Together, we've made a huge dent in that."

Over the past year, the department has secured new equipment, remodeled some if its stations and continue to serve the Newton community throughout — responding to a record number (3,609) of calls in 2017. Through it all, the partnership among staff and throughout Newton and Harvey County has not wavered.

"I'm so proud of the men and women of Newton Fire/EMS and the community we work with," Metzler said.

LifeSaver award honorees (crew members who helped resuscitate a patient who had gone into cardiac arrest) also recognized at the ceremony included Capt. Rob Hiebert, Lt. Ryan Dick, Colton Garcia, Mike Estep, Jamie Mott, Kevin Plenert, Jeremy Newhouse, Newton Police Department Cpl. Michael Stinger, Capt. John Winslow, Lt. Joe Martin, Kalin Johnson, Peivi Tauiliili, Aaron Wald, Bryce Roth and Whitewater Fire Department staff Bryce Roth, Trent Bartlett, Tim Stanghor, Jared Kornfeld, Leland Entz, Cory Ballard, Garett Hinz and Daryl Claassen.