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Chapel Hill fire department selects Brian Dunagin as 2023 Firefighter of the Year

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Chapel Hill Fire Station stands at 403 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024.

The Town of Chapel Hill recently honored Brian Dunagin as the 2023 Firefighter of the Year. Dunagin serves as the fire captain and is a 15-year veteran of the department.

Jay Mebane, Chapel Hill Fire Department’s fire chief, said the award is highly selective. Firefighters in the department submit nominations for the award. The nominations are blindly ranked by a committee, which chooses a finalist to recommend to Mebane.

“To be nominated by the department and to be recognized by your peers as a firefighter is a huge endorsement that they have for trusting you and believe that you represent what the American fire service should be,” Mebane said.

Dunagin said it means a lot to him to receive the award among many other hardworking firefighters.

“We have a ton of very smart, very capable people that work here, and just to be considered for this is a huge honor,” Dunagin said.

Mebane said Dunagin's personality reflects throughout the department — especially in the dynamic he has with his team as a leader.

At 13 years old, Dunagin began volunteering with the Lebanon Volunteer Fire Department in Durham. He said that from that point forward, he knew he wanted to pursue a career as a firefighter.  He continued to take EMT and firefighting classes throughout high school and attended Durham Technical Community College, he said.

Chapel Hill Fire Department Battalion Chief David Sasser, who has worked with Dunagin for several decades, said Dunagin's skills shine through in stressful moments during fires and other calls.

“Brian just has this sort of sense about him," Sasser said. "He’s aware of his surroundings, he's aware of what's going on around him, and he's kind of drawn to where the problem needs fixing."

Sasser said passion for the job — like Dunagin’s — is important to be a great firefighter.

“The skills are something that can be taught, if you're willing to put your heart and mind into it and know that hard work is rewarding,” Sasser said.

Dunagin said that his favorite thing to do in his free time away from the fire department is to watch his older son play soccer and basketball and spend time with their new baby. His wife is also a firefighter with the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

He said balancing both of their jobs and personal lives is difficult, but due to rotating shifts they spend time together nonetheless.

Dunagin said the biggest lesson he’s learned throughout his career is to be fair and treat others with respect.

“We go to a lot of calls where they may be a college student, it could be a senior citizen, but to me, they're all the same,” Dunagin said. “They all deserve dignity.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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