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Ogdensburg native named top fireman in South Carolina

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A city native has been lauded for the second time in his career as the top firefighter in South Carolina.

Bruce A. Kline, a 1981 graduate of Ogdensburg Free Academy, now lives in Beaufort, S.C. where he is Fire Chief for the Lady’s Island-St. Helena Island Fire District. In June, he was honored as Firefighter of the Year by the S.C. State Firefighters Association, the second time he has earned the distinction. Mr. Kline also received the award in 1999, making him the only two-time winner of the award in the state’s history, according to South Carolina fire officials.

“It’s a very big deal to me, and a very proud moment in my career,” Mr. Kline said in a telephone interview. “This really is the epitome of any award you can get for fire service in the state of South Carolina.”

The 51-year-old Mr. Kline grew up in Ogdensburg and is the son of Geraldine M. and the late Richard E. Kline. A standout high school football player at OFA, Mr. Kline joined the U.S. Marines after high school and spent four-year’s as a military prison guard before embarking on a career as a paid fireman in Beaufort.

“It’s something I had wanted to do all of my life,” Mr. Kline said of his decision to enter the fire service. “As a little kid growing up in Ogdensburg I use to chase fire trucks around the city.”

Mr. Kline’s mother, who still lives in Ogdensburg, said she is proud of her son’s accomplishments. She said even as a child he was focused, respectful and hardworking both on the sports field and in the classroom.

“He’s always been a good boy,” said the 72-year-old Mrs. Kline. “He never got into any trouble, and never caused me any heartache whatsoever.”

Mr. Kline received his recent honor at the South Carolina State Firefighter Association’s annual conference in Myrtle Beach on June 14.

He is a past president of the State Firefighters Association and has been an executive committee member for nearly 20 years.

He is a member of the South Carolina Firefighter Hall of Fame, has been awarded the association’s Medal of Valor for bravery, and has spent his career training firefighters and educating the public on fire safety, according to South Carolina fire officials.

The South Carolina State Firefighter’s Association is made up of 17,500 firefighters from across the state, represent 500 different fire departments.

Mr. Kline said the firefighter of the year award in South Carolina is reserved for firefighters who take their training and experience to the state level in hopes of affecting public policy regarding issues of fire safety. In his case, Mr. Kline has been an outspoken advocate of creating a new state law that would mandate automatic sprinkler systems in all new home construction.

“The award is not for what you do in your department, but for what you do for the state fire service,” Mr. Kline said.

As chairman of a special committee promoting mandatory sprinkler systems, Mr. Kline said he lobbied politicians and other officials on the cost effectiveness of the units and their ability to save lives.

“I have been strong in my opinion. Would you rather have a fire alarm that tells you when there is a fire in your house, or would you rather have a sprinkler system that puts the fire out? It’s a contentious issue at state level politics,” he said.

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