By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer
Portales firefighter Dathan Culpepper was named Firefighter of the Year in eastern New Mexico.
Culpepper was presented the award Saturday at the Fraternal Order of Eagles fireman and law enforcement appreciation awards banquet in Clovis.
He said the announcement of his award was a complete surprise.
“It’s a good accomplishment,” Culpepper, 28, said.
Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols said he nominated Culpepper for his actions at the Dollar General Store and Portales Valley Mills fires last spring.
At the Dollar General fire, Nuckols said, Culpepper performed well and was an exceptional firefighter.
“He gave all on that one,” Nuckols said.
During the Portales Valley Mills fire, he continued, Culpepper was fighting the fire on the second floor when fellow firefighter Steven Cain injured an ankle. Culpepper radioed for help and carried Cain out of the burning area to a window.
“My instincts just made me pick him up and call for help on the radio, call for our ladder truck to pick him up on the basket,” Culpepper said.
Nuckols focused on the incident in the nomination letter.
“I think anyone should be commended for that type of quick thinking and bravery to be able to do that,” he said.
Culpepper responded with modesty to the letter of commendation he received for those efforts, Nuckols said.
“He’s a very well-rounded firefighter, knows his job very well and just never stops performing when he’s called to duty,” Nuckols said, adding the city and fire department are fortunate to have such a firefighter.
Eagles President Ron Edwards said during selection, Culpepper’s rescue of Cain “set him over the top” above the other four nominees.
Culpepper, who joined the department almost six years ago, said he was interested in fire fighting growing up, and a friend talked him into applying.
“I don’t wish fires on anybody, but when we get that tone (from dispatch), I do enjoy going and fighting the fire,” Culpepper said.
The experience is an adrenaline rush, he said.
Culpepper also said the other firefighters in the department are knowledgeable.
“If it wasn’t for them training me, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” he said.