The November Community Potluck and annual Orange Beach police and firefighter awards ceremony took place on Monday, November 6th at the Community Center.
Orange Beach Police Chief Steve Brown announced Cpl. Dillen Malone as the 2023 Officer of the Year and Suzie Flowers as the Police Department’s 2023 Employee of the Year. Interim Fire Chief Jeff Smith presented the 2023 Firefighter of the Year award to Battalion Chief David Gant.
After an excellent meal of fried chicken and always-appreciated homemade desserts, City Administrator Ford Handley welcomed everyone. “On behalf of the mayor and City Council, I want to thank the Orange Beach Community Association for another great night. The food is fantastic. … Thank you, everybody for being here. This is a special night each year.”
POLICE OFFICER OF THE YEAR
Chief Brown took the first shift in the awards announcements.
“Good evening, I don’t know how many community potlucks this marks for me and there are two or three other officers here that have been here for 25-plus years and this is always a special time of the year. We’re grateful for the Orange Beach Community Association for having hosted this for years and years and we look forward to continued potlucks over the years. I know our numbers are changing and we need to get that up. … Also, thanks to our mayor, city administrator and elected officials for allowing us to do the things that we do and to afford us the equipment, the personnel and everything that we need to do the job. To protect paradise and be here for our community. It’s very important work that they do and they provide for us, and the support that is given to us.”
Chief Brown said while one officer was going to be recognized Monday night, every officer at some point does something that sets them apart. Every officer is deserving of praise and accolades for the job that they do.
“The year’s nominated Officer of the Year has demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism in this profession as a police officer,” Chief Brown said. “Nominated by peers and support staff of the police department, this officer has shown great leadership throughout the years and, more importantly, built upon the leader he’s shown himself to be early in his career here with the Orange Beach Police Department.
“After many opportunities as an athlete after high school, this officer elected to serve our country and do so honorably in the United States Air Force. Leaving his military service, he elected to further serve as a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of his service to the City of Orange Beach, this officer has consistently shown his leadership abilities, serving as a patrol officer, investigator, and is currently serving as a corporal in the patrol division. Always willing to take on a challenge, this officer insists on striving to be the best and demands the best from all of us, including me.
“Upon his promotion to corporal he was thrust into the position of shift supervisor due to the absence of his sergeant, who was out due to medical reasons for injuries sustained on the job. He did an exemplary job in leading his new shift when thrust into that position. Recently, this officer was called in to a suicidal subject at Alabama Point. It was my understanding that it was a veteran and he was attempting to use the police department or a police officer to help him accomplish his goal by suicide by cop. He and several officers sought a peaceful outcome and worked to avoid a loss of life, not because of his veteran status, he’d do it for anybody, but more importantly we lose too many veterans every day in this country who have served their country admirably.
“At a dead run for approximately 75 yards, Cpl. Malone ran and - I apologize I just gave it away,” Chief Brown said over the laughter of those at the Community Center. “But anyway, Cpl. Malone ran approximately 75 yards … I’m told while on the run he deployed a less lethal round that kept the person from reacquiring the weapon he had been separated from. And I’d like to take a moment and express to the community how well your police and fire work together because this individual was distracted by aid from the fire department with a fire boat and a water cannon. So all that said, with the deployment of the less-than-lethal round officers were able to take the person into custody to arrange to get him help and spare his life. So with that said, I’d like to congratulate Cpl. Dillen Malone as our Officer of the Year.”
Cpl. Malone thanked everyone for the award.
“Coming to work everyday, the fire department included, I don’t think we want accolades, we just do our jobs,” Cpl. Malone said. “I’ll keep it short, I believe in having a strong foundation. Fire guys, thank y’all so much. I think our relationship has grown great over the last couple of years. I’m going to keep going with that.”
In a deadpane voice, Cpl. Malone went on to thank Sgt. Jeremy Mote “for faking injury for six months. I appreciate that.” Following the laughter, Cpl. Malone went on to sincerely thank his family for its sacrifices.
“I want to thank my in-law, my wife here because we are required to work a lot, a lot of overtime,” Cpl. Malone said. “Having a kid during Covid, she stayed home a lot by herself. I know that is a tough task to ask of you in allowing me to help me further my career. So to you, I love you. Thank you.”
Chief Brown noted that several officers were involved with the call with Cpl. Malone and that he appreciated the hard work and dedication - day in and day out - of all of his officers.
POLICE DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Chief Brown announced that Suzie Flowers, who was unable to attend Monday night, earned the distinction of being the Police Department’s 2023 Employee of the Year.
“She has worn several different hats for the police department,” Chief Brown said, “dispatch, corrections and now she keeps our facility in top-notch shape and does nice little things for employees on a daily basis that she doesn’t seek any recognition for. But we wanted to recognize her for that. Just leaving little gifts here and there. Candies and what have-yous on desks all the while keeping the facility clean and in order. Because just like the fire service, we’re 24/7, 365 and not everybody picks up that well.”
FIREFIGHTER OF THE YEAR
Chief Smith followed by recognizing the 2023 Firefighter of the Year.
“Good evening. To answer Chief Brown’s comments from the beginning of his presentation, I’m pretty sure this is 27 years for me and the Community Association putting on this,” Chief Smith said. “I remember it from when I was just a firefighter here. It wasn’t always an awards ceremony as it is today but it is definitely appreciated. The mayor and council, the support y’all give us in the community. All these fire guys, any of them that I’ve been involved in interviewing and within their interview and hiring process, I’d be very shocked if they didn’t tell you that at some point in time somebody within our organization has talked about the community support that we get here in Orange Beach. It’s like no other.”
Chief Smith noted that the department has an Awards Committee for when people present nominations for letters of commendation or other accolades, and the committee handles the process. He said this year, the department had quite a few nominations and he read over a dozen names of firefighters in recognition of their work and dedication to the city.
“All these guys, I’ve got lists of accomplishments, things that they did,” Chief Smith said. “Some of these are an engine company stopping and helping someone change a flat tire. To one of these is actually a commendation for the Fire Boat 2 crew that assisted Officer Malone and his crew with the suicide threat down on Perdido Pass. And that’s a pretty awesome call, I mean to have the outcome and be able to utilize the assets the city provides us to create that positive outcome is just amazing. And having the two agencies working together the way they did.”
Chief Smith went on to read the commendation from the award recipient's staff and noted that the winner would be revealed as he read it.
“On the night of September 3rd around 11 p.m. a call concerning a missing individual was dispatched to our organization. Responding promptly, Battalion 1, Engine 1 gathered crucial information about the subject while Battalion 1 David Gant conducted a thorough search of the beach from Alabama Point east toward the Florida state line; he spotted a person in the surf roughly 30 feet from shore matching the description provided. It’s important to note that this night featured red flags, indicating perilous surf conditions with a strong westward current and waves ranging from 3 to 4 feet. In an act of remarkable bravery, David Gant immediately informed dispatch of intent to enter the water. With unwavering determination for the safety of the distressed individual, Battalion Chief David Gant successfully executed the rescue while fully clothed bringing the subject safely to the beach. Following the rescue, David Gant conducted a swift primary assessment and identified that the subject was experiencing respiratory distress. With care, the patient was smoothly transported to Engine 1 crew and Rescue 1. Thanks to swift and coordinated efforts the patient was airlifted to Sacred Heart via Air Care 1 in an improved condition from which she was initially found. David Gant’s heroic actions deserve commendation and gratitude. He exemplifies the true essence of dedication and service to our profession. His courageous act sets a profound example for us all.
“And that’s from his staff,” Chief Smith said. “So I present our Firefighter of the Year to David Gant.”
Holding onto his bronze-finished firefighter award, Gant said the award means a lot to him.
“I’m appreciative of Chief Smith and our administration, our city,” Gant said. “The guys that I work with, this could be any one of those guys on any given day. Right place, right time. A God thing because I just made that search and didn’t see anything there. And was fixin’ to exit the beach. Something in my gut said, ‘No. Go back the way you came.’ So I went back toward Perdido Pass and that’s when I saw her. And so right place, right time. God has a way of putting us where we need to be and he does that to everyone of these guys everyday, day in and day out. Chief Smith has a motto and it’s starting to become contagious within our organization of, ‘Do what’s right by the community.’ Is it good for the city when we are making our decisions? And I’m starting to see that. It’s starting to catch a hold of all of our guys, using that mentality and that thought process. Thank y’all, thank you to the community association. I mean that’s what we’re here for; it’s for the community and to receive this award tonight. Thank y’all!”
The December Community Potluck will be held on Monday, December 3rd at the Orange Beach Community Center, typically with a Christmas program.
Doors open at 6 p.m. and dinner starts at 6:30. Everyone is invited; just bring a dish or dessert to share.
The Orange Beach Community Association hosts the monthly potlucks on the first Monday of each month, September through May.
The Orange Beach Community Center is at 27235 Canal Road.
(This article was written by Marc D. Anderson, Special Projects Coordinator, City of Orange Beach.)