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Late local firefighter

American Legion taps Decatur's Lt. Tommy Hill for state award

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

HUNTSVILLE — Decatur Fire and Rescue Lt. Tommy Hill probably wouldn't have understood the hoopla, but the American Legion made an excellent choice in honoring him as Alabama Firefighter of the Year, friends and family said.

A fatal heart attack Oct. 24 cut short Hill's productive career with Decatur fire and shocked his family and co-workers, who said Hill had seemed in great physical condition for a man of 53.

Hill's wife, Debbie Hill, 52, and his mother, Ann Hill, 76, accepted the plaque in his stead before a gathering of about 400 at the Legion's statewide convention Friday night at the Space and Rocket Center Marriott.

Debbie Hill said a "flood of emotions" overwhelmed her when it came to talking about her husband.

"It was a very touching moment for me because I knew he would feel that way and it would have really touched his heart," said Debbie Hill. "He was very proud to be a fireman and took his job very seriously, so I know he would have been really honored."

But, she added, Tommy Hill was far too humble to ever have expected such an event.

"He would have been totally amazed. He thought he was just a regular, average fireman and you went out there and did your job. They were a family, and he didn't feel any different from any of the others," Debbie Hill said.

She said the esteem other firefighters accorded her husband became clear after his death.

"I really was shocked and amazed by all the respect that the other firemen had for him," Debbie Hill said. "All of them, it seems like, have come up to me and said how much they respected his honesty and his fairness. They offered to help me, and they have helped me. I would have never made it through.

"It kind of makes you feel like a part of Tommy is still alive because of the others in his crew. ... I feel like all of the guys are really special because they're part of Tommy, part of his beliefs," she said.

Decatur Fire Lt. Doug Davies, who worked with Tommy Hill for more than 20 years, also spoke at the convention.

"The comment was made several times, particularly from rookies," Davies recalled, "that they felt like they were better men for having worked with Tommy. He was that kind of officer."

Not only is the American Legion award prestigious, Davies said, it's rarely bestowed posthumously. O.J. Hyde, Americanism chairman for American Legion Post 15, said that after presenting Hill with their local firefighter of the year award based on Fire Chief Charlie Johnson's recommendation, the post decided to nominate Hill for the state award.

Hyde said that though he did not know Hill personally, one could not read the nomination submitted by Hill's fellow firefighters without getting a sense of Hill's dedication.

"He really serviced the community in a great way and had the respect of all his brothers at the station," Hyde said.

Hill's career spanned 24 years as a fire investigator, emergency medical technician and member of Decatur fire's Honor Guard, which he is credited with starting.

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