A Coast Guard member who responded to last year’s deadly fire in Buxton, North Carolina has received the 2020 GEICO Military Service Award for fire safety and fire prevention.
Chief Petty Officer Jamison M. Smith is assigned to U.S. Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet.
As engineer petty officer, he oversees all fire safety and prevention programs for the motor lifeboat station on North Carolina's Outer Banks. As the unit safety coordinator, Smith identified significant safety concerns with the aging fire detection system, and spearheaded a civil engineering project to correct them. He also volunteers during fire prevention week at Cape Hatteras Elementary School, sharing his expertise in fire safety and showing students how to properly use fire equipment.
While off-duty, Smith volunteers as a fire fighter everywhere he has been assigned since 2014. He joined the Hatteras Volunteer Fire Department in 2017 and currently serves as a lieutenant line officer.
It was in that volunteer fireman capacity that he got a 4 a.m., page on Oct. 23, 2020. His four-person unit was being dispatched to Buxton, a close-knit neighborhood of Coast Guard and civilian families near the Cape Hatteras light house.
“I didn’t know exactly where we were going until we got on scene, and we saw what was going on,” Smith said this week. The flames were engulfing the home of his friend, Petty Officer 1st Class Harry Ramsey, a boatswain’s mate who was underway. Ramsey’s wife and two daughters were lost in the fire.
“Those little girls were my daughters’ best friends. They’d spent the day together before the tragedy,” Smith said. “All the training I’ve had with the Coast Guard and fire department – I just had to get through the emotions and go to work.”
The fire also claimed the life of Sarah Quigley, a fishing charter captain.
Despite the extreme smoke, fire, and zero visibility conditions, Smith and other volunteers valiantly combated the fire throughout the morning to save lives and property in the adjacent homes.
The community rallied around the families who lost so much that day, holding remembrance vigils and fundraisers. A GoFundMe has been established to support the Coast Guard member.
“Me and my whole unit went through so much,” Smith said. “It makes me realize how lucky we are to have the relationship between the community and the Coast Guard here. Everybody came together after the tragedy. There were no differences, nothing but a common goal to help out everybody in any way we could.
Earlier this week, Smith was called into a meeting with his command, who told him he had a phone call. “I didn’t realize who I was on the phone with at first, but it was Master Chief [Jason] Vanderhaden. Very cool guy, nice to talk to. It was so surreal getting that phone call.”
Smith wants to ensure credit is given everywhere deserved, especially for the tremendous support during and after the incident. “I’m really humbled to get this, but I wish I could hand it out to every single person involved in responding to the fire, all the volunteer fire departments here on Hatteras Island,” Smith said.
He noted that Chiefs’ Messes, Coast Guard Auxiliary, church groups, civilians, and companies from all over the country gathered physical and monetary donations, raising more than $100,000 for the families impacted by the fire.
“I'm very proud to be both a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and work alongside the brave and skilled men and women of the Hatteras Island Fire Departments (Hatteras, Frisco, Buxton, and Avon),” he said, adding: “Please keep BM1 Ramsey and the Quigley family in your thoughts and prayers.”
“There were so many heroic actions performed that morning. I just had a small part in it,” Smith said. “It’s difficult to accept the honor of this award given the circumstances, but I'm very grateful for it and hope it may inspire future volunteers.”