Wichita fire captain’s work with teens recognized

A Wichita fire captain who spearheads Operation Prom Night, a program that demonstrates to high school students the consequences of drinking and driving, was honored Thursday as the department’s firefighter of the year.

Jeff Toews, a 21-year veteran, helps put on the program the week before prom nights with police, paramedics and a local mortuary.

“Capt. Toews had been directly involved in touching an estimated 15,000 students in the last 10 years,” Chief Ron Blackwell said in announcing the award. “He has gone above and beyond in his zest to instill this to an audience of very impressionable adolescents.”

The award was one of several that were presented during the department’s Medals Day ceremony at the department’s regional training center at 4780 E. 31st St. South.

Former fire chief Jim Sparr, who in 1980 at the age of 33 became the city’s youngest fire chief, was the keynote speaker.

Sparr left Wichita to become the chief in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1987 and now runs a consulting business in Colorado. He told the 100 people in the audience, most of them firefighters, that training was the most important non-emergency task they will ever perform while on duty.

Among the other awards presented Thursday was a unit citation that was given to 15 firefighters who were involved in the April 12 rescue of a dog that nearly drowned in the Arkansas River. The dog took refuge under a ledge during a thunderstorm and was trapped in an air pocket by the rising waters. Firefighters had to cut through concrete to pull the dog to safety.

Another unit citation was given to five firefighters who on July 10 used the Jaws of Life to rescue a child who was trapped under a car after an accident in the 600 block of North Ridge Road. The child sustained a broken left arm and burns to his right arm but would have suffered far more serious injuries had it not been for the efforts of the firefighters, Blackwell said.

Lt. Kelly Zane was named fire investigator of the year. He was recognized for his efforts in solving a series of trash container fires in the Delano neighborhood in March. He and Wichita police caught the arsonist in the act on March 6, and the suspect water later convicted of nine counts of arson.