Former West Hempstead Fire Department Captain Rich Damante, now a career firefighter with the Rural/Metro Fire Department in Arizona, was awarded the state's 2012 Firefighter of the Year Saturday.
Damante's chief and friends nominated him for the award "behind [his] back]} and it was presented to him by the 100 Club of Arizona, a group that provides support for families of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Damante, 53, told Today Publications that the desire to become a firefighter was first instilled in him when he was only three years old and a firefighter on a ladder truck waved to him as he passed by.
While living in West Hempstead, he joined the local volunteer fire department, where he worked his way up to captain. After moving to Arizona, Damante continued to pursue his passion of fighting fires and at the age of 49, he became one of the oldest participants to ever graduate from the Rural/Metro firefighter academy.
A call in Feb. 2010 involving a young boy who accidentally shot himself inspired Damante to start a community outreach program, through which firefighters work with area schools.
Speaking to Today Publications about why Damante was chosen for the award, 100 Club of Arizona Event and Volunteer Manager Rachel St. Moritz, said:
"It’s clear that he’s passionate about being a firefighter ... He’s a positive image of the profession and a positive role model for the youth.”