Firefighter of the year: funny, energetic and loving the job

They are just doing their job.

That’s what Battalion Chief Eric Wilkerson predicted the men and women of the Virginia Beach Fire Department would say when recognized Wednesday at their annual awards ceremony at Kempsville High School.

Capt. Ray Irizarry received the biggest honor for doing his job. He was named the 2015 Firefighter of the Year, but don’t tell him he had to work for it.

“I don’t know that I worked for it because I didn’t work,” Irizarry said. “I didn’t feel like it was ever work.”

The 27-year department veteran said making a difference and helping people “while being with your best friends – it doesn’t get any better than that.”

“I can’t believe they still pay me for this,” he added.

According to many of his coworkers, Irizarry has worked harder than anyone during his career. In a video shown at the awards ceremony, firefighters called him the “energizer” and complimented his sense of humor.

Fire Chief Steven Cover praised the captain for his work mentoring recruits. He also credited Irizarry with helping make possible the department’t 2014 live burn exercise at the Cavalier Oceanfront hotel.

VBFD Firefighter of the Year Captain Ray Irizarry (center) poses with Fire Chief Steven Cover (left) and Marv Mathwig, of STIHL, the award's sponsor (right). (Courtesy of the VBFD)
Virginia Beach Firefighter of the Year Capt. Ray Irizarry (center) with Chief Steven Cover (left) and Marv Mathwig of STIHL, the award’s sponsor. (Courtesy of VBFD)

The hotel was scheduled to close, so Irizarry and other firefighters looked at it as a perfect opportunity to train in a real burning environment. The drill wouldn’t have happened without Irizarry’s efforts, according to the department.

Many co-workers called it an honor to work with and for Irizarry, and credited him as a main reason for their own success.

Irizarry, meanwhile, said his award wouldn’t have been possible without his “brothers and sisters.”

More than 80 other people, including firefighters and civilians, were honored at the ceremony. Many of them received life-saving ribbons for rescuing people in dangerous situations. Others received certificates of appreciation and meritorious unit commendations.

Cover said his department answered about 40,000 calls last year.

“When people need us the most, we are at our absolute best,”  he said.

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