Fighting fires, earning honors

At the South Carolina State Firefighter Association’s annual conference held in Myrtle Beach on June 14, two local fire chiefs received recognition for their excellent work in the community and dedication to service statewide.

Local fire chief Will Vaignuer shakes hands with Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District Chief Bruce Kline.
Local fire chief Will Vaignuer shakes hands with Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District Chief Bruce Kline.

Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District Chief Bruce Kline was awarded the Firefighter of the Year for 2014. He is the first two-time winner of this award, which he also won in 1999.

Chief Kline has served as president of the association and has been an executive committee member for nearly 20 years. He is a South Carolina Firefighter Hall of Famer and has been awarded the Medal of Valor for an act of bravery.  He has spent his career training firefighters and educating the public on fire safety.  He has led the charge in South Carolina teaching people the importance of residential sprinklers and continues to be committed to the state’s fire service.

Chief Kline was raised in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and came to Beaufort in 1980 by way of the United States Marine Corps.  He began his career at Beaufort City Fire Department in 1984.  He became the fire chief of Fripp Island 1991, and in 2005 he became the chief of the Lady’s Island – St. Helena Fire District, where he continues to serve and lead.

Also at the conference, Chief Will Vaignuer was sworn in as president of the association at the Transfer of Command Ceremony.

Chief Vaignuer was born in Beaufort, and grew up in Port Royal with parents Benny and Linda and sister Angel. He graduated from Beaufort High School, and is married to Monica and has two kids — a son Ben, 18, and a daughter Chase, 10.

He joined the fire service in 1999. Chief Vaignuer said, “I have spent my entire career serving the citizens of Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District.  Worked my way up through the ranks and was promoted to lieutenant over the training division in 2005.  Earned the rank of captain in 2008. In 2011, I returned to shift work as a battalion chief.”

His first involvement with the South Carolina State Firefighter’s Association came in 2007 when he assisted with the planning for the funerals for the Charleston 9. “Fire Chief Bruce Kline invited me in to build the command structure for these funerals,” he described. “Here, I was able to get an inside look at the great things that the association does for the firefighters of this state. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to be an active member of our association and do all that I could do for the firefighters in this state.  My involvement in honoring these nine firefighters continues to be one of my proudest moments.”

Because of his work in Charleston, he was appointed to the Member’s Benefits Chair in 2008. He was then elected to the office of 4th Vice President in 2010.

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

Chief Vaignuer says, “I entered the fire service to make a difference in the community.  By being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, I have been able to make a difference in the South Carolina Fire Service.”

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