August 2015

Marcos Farr: Bluffton’s 2015 Firefighter of the Year

Author: Courtney Hampson

The assignment was to interview Bluffton Township’s Fire District (BTFD) 2015 Firefighter of the Year, Marcos Farr. He’d received the honor once before, so one might assume that I was to meet a 30-year veteran of the department. But, no. This is a 25-year-old, fresh-faced man, no ounce of jade or shoulder chip to be found.

He’s a man of few words and certainly too humble (and even a tad too shy) to want to talk about himself, his recent award, or why he’s different. After spending time with him, I realize that he doesn’t think what he does is all that remarkable. Instead, it is a calling, an honor.

In his words, “Being a firefighter is not only the best job in the world, but it is the most honorable job. We should all feel blessed that we have thousands of people in our community that back us up every day. We should never take that for granted. No matter what call it is we should get on our engine and have a smile on our face and be glad to ride down the road in a big red truck… we are forever indebted to our community. Firefighters help people. That is why we should be in the service—not for the money, or the retirement, or the T-shirt. You are a firefighter to help others realize that. Your career will go long and prosperous if you keep that in mind. Love what you do and who you do it for.”

The first time I met Marcos Farr, he was cooking me dinner at Station 30. After I almost killed myself taking the BTFD PACE test last fall, some members of the department felt sorry for me, so they continue to share meals with me in an effort to re-build my confidence.

I walked into the station, and Farr was at the kitchen island prepping for dinner. His stellar smile was inviting (more so than the growls emitted from some others, who shall remain nameless). We immediately started talking, and I thought, this is a good guy. He was open and inviting, and too polite to wonder out loud why the heck he had to cook me dinner. As we sat through dinner, I asked my standard dinner party question: “If you could invite any three people, dead or alive to dinner, who would it be?” Farr wove a story of a family member who spent the majority of his life in a psychiatric hospital. And I thought, whoa this guy is deep. And then he lobbed a healthy serving of sarcasm at fellow firefighter Tim Smith, and I thought now this is my kind of guy. Then they got a call, and I sat there awkwardly at the table by myself while they all rushed out the door and got on the big red truck.

A few weeks later, I learned of Farr’s honor as Bluffton Firefighter of the Year—an honor he has received twice in the last three years, which as you might imagine is quite extraordinary. For the interview, I wanted to get him away from the firehouse, and out of his element, in an attempt to “crack” him. It backfired. Once I got him away from the house, I realized he is just as comfortable out of his element as he is in it. It was my brilliant idea to go paddle boarding at Palmetto Bluff. He brought his fiancée, Andrea, a nursing student, and the two of them spent the whole time making sure I was okay. The sea was angry that day. White caps in the May River had me a little green around the gills. (This wasn’t embarrassing at all in case you are wondering.)

Bluffton Firefighter of the Year, Marcos Farr cooking breakfast for his fellow firefighters.

After 90 minutes of fighting the wind and tide, and getting nowhere fast, we settled at the fire pits for a beer. Once I stopped swaying, we were able to really chat; but we didn’t talk about the fire service at all, actually. We talked about Farr’s dad, a retired Marine who now teaches ROTC at Whale Branch High School, and is the reason the family relocated from San Diego to Beaufort County. I suspect his dad’s service is also the reason Farr has always known he would serve his community. We talked about how he met Andrea in high school in California, and how she followed him here, against her parents’ wishes. “They like him now,” she said with a grin.

And while Farr participated in the Explorers program in High School (the same program he launched here for the BTFD), he knew long before then what his calling was.
“I knew at five,” he said. “I’m not sure why. But, I do know that I enjoy being able to help people, helping them in their worst time, and bringing a smile in their time of darkness.”
But Farr gets a little uncomfortable talking about himself and his work. He doesn’t believe he is doing anything special. His colleagues disagree.

Four firefighters were nominated, yet Farr, “… far (no pun intended) outpaced the others,” said Lt. Lee Levesque, who facilitates the selection process. In fact, Levesque couldn’t say enough about Farr. “To stand out among these type of people, who are motivated not by self but by others, is significant once in your career. Twice in three years is phenomenal.”
In fact, no one was short of compliments for Farr, as evidenced by the following from his co-workers:

Farr is stationed at Bluffton Township Fire District’s Station 30, in Old Town Bluffton.

“Farr’s efforts and desire to teach young adults about the fire service, community service, discipline, and respect deserve special recognition.”

“Marcos’ development and management of the Explorer Program should not go unnoticed. He has dedicated hours and hours of time to the recruitment, training, and retention of the Explorers. This does not come without sacrifices. Every hour he is dedicating to this program is an hour he is not spending with his family….”

“His discipline shows a dedication that is rare.”

“His presence is everywhere in the department. Whether working with the Honor Guard or the Explorer Program, he always answers the call to rise above the norm.”

For 24 hours at a time, the Firehouse serves as workplace and home. Firefighters share meals together, like family.

It’s clear from his fellow firefighters that Farr goes above and beyond, fulfilling his duties as firefighter and then taking it one step further. The Explorer Program, a division of the Boy Scouts, prepares high school students for a career in the police or fire service. Beaufort County was without an Explorer program for more than a decade until Farr arrived on scene, helping to craft the program for Bluffton High School. Now, still in its early years, the program offers a curriculum benefit for students, providing credits toward graduation and the state fire academy’s certificate in fire service. Farr runs the program, volunteering his time, challenging and educating local teens.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the BTFD Honor Guard was formed to honor the fallen firefighter brothers during ceremonies for remembrance. Today’s Honor Guard is comprised of 12 members, including Farr, who exist to honor the lives, courage, and sacrifice of Bluffton’s public safety and local military professionals. The Honor Guard responds to service requests for funerals, parades, dedication ceremonies and other venues for flag presentations. It goes without saying that the Honor Guard is on a volunteer basis. Membership requires a letter of support from the Battalion Chief. Fewer than 10 percent of the department are members of the Honor Guard, which is a daunting, if not somber post. “How many young men do you know who would stand next to a crematorium to learn how to carry a casket or fold a flag?” Levesque asked.

The Firefighter of the Year honor is one bestowed by your peers. Every member of the department, all 131, were asked for nominations. The official details say, “Firefighter of the Year is awarded to a Fire District member for having performed an act of valor and heroism or for outstanding service to the Department or to the public safety of the community.”

I wondered, to be nominated again, to have just won two years ago, does that make it an easier decision for the committee, or more difficult?

“The fact that Marcos won the award two years ago had no bearing on the decision this time around. Instead it was his relentless and selfless acts, and his dedication to the fire service that were the reason he was awarded once again,” said Captain Allen Cramer, Farr’s company officer. “If every firefighter in the Bluffton Fire District worked as hard and excelled in making this the best fire department in the state, then they too would wear the badge he has.”

And, speaking of that badge, this is the first year a special badge has been presented as part of the award. It is larger and a little heavier than the standard department badge. “You can see how it pulls on the shirt a little, but Marcos just stands a little straighter, carries it with pride,” Levesque said.

I try pressing Farr for answers, but ever the gentlemen, and true public servant, he just shakes his head. He doesn’t know why he would be nominated, much less be lauded twice. “I’m just doing my job,” he said.

“We wish we had 10,000 more like Marcos—the things we would do. It is difficult to gain praise. It is our job. But, there are not enough words in the English language to praise Marcos,” Levesque said.

Well Lee, here are 1,600 words. I hope I came close. 

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