‘Outstanding’ firefighters honored in Fresno


FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – Exchange Club of Fresno is a service club that has been in the city since 1922, which takes pride in honoring local heroes.

“These guys are outstanding,” President of the Exchange Club of Fresno, Jim Irvine said. “Protectors of our property and our lives, that’s why we do this.”

On Wednesday, the club presented three Fresno-area firefighters with their Firefighter of the Year award.

From Cal-Fire, Fresno Fire, and the Forest Service. The men honored said they couldn’t believe it.

“I was completely overwhelmed and grateful,” said Marc Bontrager, a Cal-Fire Battalion Chief. “but, at the same time I was thinking why me? I could think of 100 other people that deserve this.”

But their higher-ups said that’s exactly what makes them stand out. Their selfless, and consistent work they know they can count on.

“When you’re having a bad day,” Fresno Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Rich Cabral said, talking about his Department’s honoree. “And everything’s on fire, you immediately know things are going to get better.”

Lawrence French from the Fresno Fire Department was awarded on Wednesday, in part for his dedication to continuing education, in assisting firefighters at all levels of their careers, and for stepping-up when it matters most.

“He provided management and oversight to some of the busiest districts in the city of Fresno,” Deputy Chief Cabral said.

He says it’s something that comes naturally, but that he isn’t doing it alone.

“If you love what you’re doing you never have to work another day,” said French. “That really has been a blessing for 20 years, and I think it’s very important. As great an honor as this is, there’s not a single individual in that room that does anything by themselves.”

Forest Service firefighter of the year, Fire Engine Captain Ritter Bethel agrees.

“I guess I have an overwhelming desire to help people in the community,” Bethel said. “I like knowing I can make a difference in people’s lives.”

And while they all work for different agencies, that’s a feeling all three Firefighter of the Year honorees said, they have in common.

“The support that we have,” Bethel said. “And the people that are among us in the firelines are the support network that allows us to get the job done.”

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