The Exchange Club of Brunswick used its 51st annual Firefighter Appreciation Day Tuesday to honor the person who started the tradition, along with the firefighters who serve the Golden Isles.
P.J. “Frenchi” Blanchard arranged the first appreciation day in 1967 and continued to do so every year until 2017, said Exchange Club member Steven Floyd, who handled this year’s awards.
“This year was the 51st appreciation dinner,” Floyd said. “... These men and women in our community give a lot and this is our way, as the Exchange Club, to give back.”
Both the Glynn County and Brunswick fire departments select the best from among them and nominate them for the award, which is handed out at a ceremonial dinner on Firefighter Appreciation Day. Tuesday marked the 51st ceremony.
Firefighter Appreciation Day is held annually during Fire Prevention Week unless it conflicts with the Brunswick Exchange Club Fair. It did this year, and the earliest appreciation day ceremony could be arranged with both the Brunswick and Glynn County fire departments was Tuesday, Floyd said.
On Tuesday, club leadership issued a proclamation officially changing the day’s name to the P.J. “Frenchi” Blanchard Firefighter Appreciation Day.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Blanchard moved to Glynn County to work at Naval Air Station Glynco. Following the blimp station’s closure, he took a job at the Brunswick Fire Department. During his 34 years at the department, he worked several jobs including truck driver, fire inspector, building inspector and fire marshall before retiring in 1996.
He arranged the first firefighters’ appreciation dinner in 1967, the same year he joined the Exchange Club. Thinking about ways to give back to the community, he came up with the idea for an appreciation day.
“You know, what better time to show appreciation to firefighters than during the week about fire prevention?” Blanchard said.
Blanchard retired from the city fire department in 1996 but continued to handle the appreciation dinner until last year.
“Last year, Frenchi said he was going to pass the torch,” Floyd.
After working with the county’s two fire departments to select an award-winner, scheduling the dinner, preparing the award itself and serving as emcee for each dinner for 50 years, Blanchard said he’s ready to pass on the responsibility.
“He (Floyd) said ‘You going to do it again this year,’ and I said ‘No, I said I wasn’t. Fifty years, I’m done,’” Blanchard said.
Passing on the torch isn’t the end of the award, however. Far from it, said Floyd in his address during the ceremony.
“This is something Frenchi started before I was born, and this is something we’re going to make sure we continue going long after I’m gone,” Floyd said. “... We as a club, we will be following right behind you to make sure this is continued on forever. And you will be remembered for what you’ve done sir, for our country and our community.”