Johnstown resident and Monroe Township volunteer firefighter Sean Panza was honored by his peers as firefighter of the year during last weekend's annual Firemans Festival.

Johnstown resident and Monroe Township volunteer firefighter Sean Panza was honored by his peers as firefighter of the year during last weekend's annual Firemans Festival.

"It's an annual award given jointly by the Monroe Township Fire Department and the Johnstown Volunteer Fire Department Association," said Chief Dudley Wright. "We feel it is prestigious because the recipient is chosen by the members of the fire department. It's a peer-selected award. I feel that gives it credibility. It's true honor for effort."

Panza, who is a staff sergeant in the Ohio National Guard, serving at the Newark Combined Support and Maintenance facility, has served the fire department for 10 years.

"My wife hates it," Panza said with a laugh. "There are many times I've left her because there is nobody to go on a run. You leave at dinner time, you leave family to go up on car wrecks or fires. It's waking up in the middle of the night. It's just like being a full-timer, except I sleep at home."

Panza said that he was not aware he had been selected until the award was announced. In past years, when he has voted to recognize other firefighters, he said he focused on firefighters who are able to participate in all aspects of the job.

"It's few and far between that you're running into a burning building," Panza said. "Usually it's just coming up and working and doing what we need to do, training, learning equipment. We have a brand new truck and we're all learning to operate that."

Wright said the award recognizes extra effort.

"I think the intent is to recognize a member of the organization who goes above and beyond what is expected, and it can be either a paid, career firefighter or it can be a volunteer firefighter," Wright said. "It's someone who exceeds expectations and goes the extra mile. It typifies the ideals of a firefighter and EMT."

Panza recently was certified as a "firefighter 2," the highest classification recognized by the state. He is also an EMT.

Among the activities Panza enjoys is presenting fire safety information in the local schools and public education events.

"I did fire extinguisher training at the festival," Panza said. "It's more younger people (who participate). The kids were interested and intrigued by it, while the adults seem to be more scared by it. I had a few (adults) do it, but it's more kids."

During his paid employment, Panza is a truck driver for the National Guard.

"I move equipment from armory to armory all over the state of Ohio," Panza said. "Newark is the main maintenance facility for the state of Ohio. For example, if the shop in Toledo has something they cannot fix, then we will do that here in Newark."

In his deployed capacity as a guardsman, Panza has served in floods and hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina. He has also been deployed to Iraq, where he most recently served as a security officer.

Wright said the department has 13 full-time employees and a number of volunteers such as Panza.

"We have a strong core of volunteers who live both in the community and outside the community," Wright said.