Shawnee Fire Department Lt. Patrick Winsett has been named Shawnee Milling Firefighter of the Year.

Shawnee Fire Department Lt. Patrick Winsett has been named Shawnee Milling Firefighter of the Year.

Winsett began his career at the Shawnee Fire Department on April 7, 2003.

“Every day is a new day — you never know what the day is going to bring,” he said. “It's being part of something bigger than myself... part of the team.”

Shawnee firefighters have unusual schedules, rotating 24 hours on duty and then off 24 hours of duty for four shifts, followed by a four-day break.

“You know what you're signing up for,” he said, but added there is a camaraderie with all the other firefighters.

Winsett is currently housed at Station 1, which is in the Shawnee City Hall downtown.

“It's like a home away from home,” he said. “Everybody looks out for each other.”

Winsett has the rank of lieutenant and also works as relief shift captain if needed.

When he first joined the fire department, Winsett said he envisioned the job was running into buildings all the time and rescuing someone from a fire. And while he's been on numerous fire scenes during his time at Shawnee and rescued a man from an apartment fire, being a firefighter is much more than fighting fires.

Winsett is one of the members of the swift-water rescue team. And while they have been on some flash flooding rescues in areas around Shawnee, the true need for help came when Hurricane Harvey devastated south Texas.

At the time, Winsett and his family were dealing with serious medical issues involving his mother. She had been hospitalized for about a month, he said, so he was spending as much time with her as possible. She communicated with him by writing on a dry erase board.

So when the swift water team got the call to go to Texas, Winsett was among those in the group. And while another could have gone in his place considering his family issues, Winsett called his wife, Michelle, who reminded him that this was the situation he had been training for his whole career.

So with his mother, Vickie, showing some signs of improvement, he went to the hospital. She seemed proud that he was going to go, he said, and just like she did the first time she communicated with him via the dry erase board, his mother wrote, “I love you.”

And while it was tough to leave her for the deployment, Winsett, along with Firefighters Travis Cooley, Scott Killgore and Chip Shepard, loaded up the department's rescue boat and made the trek to Houston to do their part in the search and rescue efforts.

The first night they arrived at a mall staging area for responders, where they all slept on cots outside under the stars.

The next few days were spent in boats maneuvering though streets that had become rivers and conducting house-to-house searches for any possible evacuees. Intense situations and conditions were part of the routine.

Seeing so many houses under water was mind blowing, he said, and while his team didn't find or recover any bodies from the devastating tragedy, other teams did.

After several days of being there, as he slept on a cot in the mall alongside countless other first responders, his cell phone rang about 2:30 a.m.

He knew in his heart what it was before he answered.

Winsett learned his mother, 63, had passed away.

In the quiet and darkness, he couldn't help but be upset. But he also knew there was nothing he could do at that moment.

In a way that's hard for him to even describe, he soon felt a calmness going over him, he said, and he was able to fall back asleep, get up the next morning and continue his work.

“I knew she was proud of me for being down there,” he said, adding the deployment is something he won't forget.

His difficult decision to go was outlined in his nomination for this award.

“He knew in his heart he could help so many people in Houston. He made the choice to go with his team and help those in such desperate need,” Carol Benedict, his mother-in-law, wrote, adding it was tough on Winsett being gone when his mother passed.

“But that's what firefighters do. They do their job, no matter what. They leave their family to go help others and that is exactly what he did...he gave his mother the best gift a child could ever give to a parent — he made her a very proud mother knowing he was helping others and keeping them safe.”

Winsett said he was surprised at the gratitude and thanks the locals had for them while in Houston, such as bringing food or cookies to the firefighters and receiving cards from local children. One woman even picked up and did some of their laundry, he said.

Shawnee Fire Chief Dru Tischer said he is glad to see Winsett receive this honor.

“I am very happy for Patrick and glad that he is being recognized with this award. He did a great job in Houston earlier this year as a member of the swift water rescue team we sent to assist with rescue operations,” the chief said, speaking about the loss of Winsett's mother while he was away in Houston. “She had been very ill for quite some time when we polled members of our swift water rescue team on their availability to deploy. Because of this, I did not expect Patrick to volunteer but he did not hesitate to do so,” the chief added. “I know it was important to him to go and help the people of Houston and I thought it was very selfless and honorable of him to do so while dealing with his mother's illness and eventual passing.”

And while Winsett said he's proud to be named Firefighter of the Year, he feels there are many other Shawnee firefighters just as deserving. And with that humbling nature, Winsett said he is honored by this award.

He and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters, Peyton, 14, and Kenlie, 9.

Winsett, born and raised in Shawnee, went to Acme School, Wilson, Shawnee Middle School and Shawnee High School. He also attended NSU in Tahlequah, but the transition into the fire service was the goal for Winsett, who first earned his paramedic license and worked at REACT EMS.

While working in EMS, he started volunteering as a firefighter in Tecumseh and then joined Shawnee.

“I think it's the greatest job in the world,” he said. “I work with great people and we help people.”