A career firefighter with The Villages Public Safety Department got the surprise of his life Friday morning when he received an unexpected honor.
Robert “Bobby” Ramage Jr., who serves as the division chief of fire training, was named as the department’s Firefighter of the Year – a prestigious award that he had no idea was coming.
“I was surprised, definitely,” he said moments after receiving the plaque from Thomas Smith, of Restoration Specialists, whose company sponsors the award.
Shortly before walking into a room full of people waiting to congratulate him, Ramage received a call from Dep. Chief Jim Goodworth, who asked him to help him with something in the Emergency Operations Center. Ramage made the short walk to the EOC from his office in the fire department’s headquarters on Morse Boulevard and along the way realized something – the building was pretty much empty, right down to the people who normally staff the front desk.
“I said, ‘Alright, this is a little suspicious,” he recalled with a smile.
Seconds later, Ramage, who spent close to 29 years with Marion County Fire Rescue before joining The Villages Public Safety Department 5½ years ago, was standing in front of his peers receiving an honor that he said means a great deal to him.
“It’s an honor that all the guys felt that highly of me,” he said. “I work hard and do my job the best I can.”
Ramage said people don’t become firefighters to win awards or “run around looking for thank-yous,” but being acknowledged for doing his job well is a high-point of his career.
“It makes you feel appreciated,” he said. “It makes you feel like what you’re doing makes a difference.”
Ramage said if he’d known he was going to receive the honor, he probably would have tried to convince the powers-that-be to give it to someone else who was just as deserving of it.
“There’s a lot of guys that work hard out there,” he said.
As for his role training firefighters, Ramage said he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I’ve been an instructor since 1994 and I’ve always had a passion for it,” he said, adding that he also taught firefighters in Marion County, at the State Fire College in Ocala and for a couple of private companies. “I try to do good training with the guys.”
Prior to taking on the division chief role, Ramage served as a firefighter and then driver aboard Rescue 51. He remembers those days and others from his long career when teaching young firefighters. And he said he’s quite proud to see the things they’ve accomplished.
“They do a good job,” he said. “They’re wanting to learn from me and I’m going to give them everything I can.”
Smith said he ran Ramage’s nomination past Goodworth and quickly knew they’d made the right decision.
“Chief Goodworth said he was more than deserving,” Smith said. “He couldn’t say enough.”
Fire Chief Edmund Cain echoed those sentiments when talking about his training chief after the ceremony.
“His knowledge and training are A-plus as far as I’m concerned,” Cain said. “This really exemplifies his 30-plus years in the field.”
There was also one more important detail that made the day even quite special for Ramage. His daughter, Alyssa, a dispatcher with Community Watch, came to see him receive the honor and was one of the many who had nominated him.
“I’m a little guilty,” she said with a sly grin. “I had to throw a nomination in there.”
As for how she felt about seeing her dad honored in front of his peers, Alyssa said she was just very proud.
“He works really hard,” she said. “He has dedicated half of his life to this job. And the other half is family, so he definitely is very deserving of the award.”