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Hall public safety workers honored for acts of heroism
Hall County Fire Department relief driver Jonathan Barton, left, talks with Hall County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Shoemaker Friday inside the Hall County Fire Station No. 7. Barton and Shoemaker were recently honored by Gov. Nathan Deal for their acts of heroism. - photo by Patrick Stoker

Heroes often don't consider themselves heroes.

Two Hall County public safety workers were honored last week by Gov. Nathan Deal for their acts of heroism, but the men say they were just performing their civic duties.

Jonathan Barton with the Hall County Fire Department and Sgt. Jeff Shoemaker with the Hall County Sheriff's Office were presented the 2011 Governor's Public Safety Award for their deeds of saving a person's life while off-duty.

Both men don't believe they deserve the title of "hero," however.

"I don't think I deserved it," Barton said. "I just felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing."

"Anybody, I think, would have done what was necessary. Hero is a pretty daunting word to use," said Shoemaker, who is assigned to the training division.

But others do believe the awards were deserved.

"Georgia is proud to recognize our law enforcement officers and emergency responders for their commitment to Georgia's public safety," Deal said. "These individuals exhibit courage and dedication every day to keep us safe."

While driving to his mother's home in Dalton during an ice and snow-filled Christmas day last year with his wife and three children, Shoemaker made a wrong turn.

But he believes making that wrong turn "wasn't a coincidence."

The family came upon tire tracks leading to an embankment. Beyond the embankment was a car overturned in a creek and mostly submerged by water.

"I could hear some sounds coming from the car like somebody was hitting on the glass from inside the vehicle," Shoemaker said.

After Shoemaker entered the water a woman emerged appearing pale and blue from the cold, brown water. The woman, visibly shaken, said her son was still in the back of the car.

That's when Shoemaker reached in and pulled the teenager from the car.

The family then helped the two climb the embankment and kept them warm until paramedics arrived.

"Had it not been for the assistance of my children things could have turned out different," Shoemaker said. "I may have needed someone to rescue me."

Those that know Shoemaker said he takes any opportunity to help others.

"You really couldn't ask for a better person or a better officer than Jeff Shoemaker," said sheriff's Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks.

"He's the type of person - no matter where he's at or what he's doing - if he sees somebody in need or he sees something that needs to be done, he's going to be the one that steps forward and does it."

Barton was nominated by Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell for his efforts in saving a drowning girl in August 2010.

After participating in the Georgia Firefighter's Conference in Savannah, Barton and his wife visited Tybee Island. While on the beach, two teenage sisters became caught in a rip current about 100 feet out.

That's when Barton and another man swam out and pulled the two girls ashore.

"Apparently there had been several tide warnings that day and further down the beach at the pier there had been several saved that day ... and this was just too far away from the pier," Barton said.

While the act is considered heroic to others, Barton said anybody put in that position would react the same.

"I'm very humbled. This is not something that I would have ever dreamed of deserving much less actually getting," he said.

Along with Barton and Shoemaker, six other public safety personnel from across the state were honored for various acts of heroism.

"There were guys there that pulled people out of burning cars ... and that's not their job," Barton said. "I kind of feel like I did something that was my job while some of the other recipients went outside their realm of training."