A local first responder was surprised Wednesday night when he was honored as First Responder of the Year.

The surprise was bestowed on Kevin Hack, who is director of ambulance/EMS system at Riverside Medical Center.

Hack is also a member of the Watseka Area Chamber of Commerce board, a member of the Watseka Masonic Lodge and involved in many other groups and organizations in Iroquois and Kankakee counties.

The award comes from the Watseka Masonic Lodge and was presented to Hack during the Business After Hours event the lodge hosted with the chamber.

Joseph Ferrell, the junior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, presented Hack with the award.

Ferrell read the nomination, which was made by Christopher Both, secretary of the Watseka lodge.

“ As a young man, while working in agriculture, Brother Hack’s Uncle told him that he should learn about EMS because he lived in a remote, rural area,” Ferrell read. “Brother Hack began his career in EMS as a volunteer EMT for a local fire department. In 1988, he made a career change from working in agriculture to working for Riverside Health Care as an EMT. During his career he has gone from street medic, to teaching EMS in the classroom, to running the hospital’s emergency department, and most recently to opening an outpatient center for the hospital in Watseka, all while running the hospital’s ambulance services since 1996. Under Brother Hack’s leadership the ambulance department has grown from two stations answering 3,000 ambulance calls a year to eight stations and over 15,000 ambulance calls a year. While serving as the director of the emergency department, he instituted a new triage process that reduced the time patients spent in the ER. He has served 31 years in EMS and 28 years in fire service. He was awarded the Robert Strip Award for EMS Excellence in April of 2000.

“Kevin’s ability to effectively manage the emergency department and the ambulance service comes from his decades of hands on experience, responding to emergencies, both large and small. He has handled the lift assists, the psychological evaluations, and the broken bones,” Ferrell continued. “He has helped patients and families through the tragic and emotional times ranging from the loss of a loved one to giving birth to a child in an ambulance. He has also responded to large disasters.

“On March 15th, 1999, an Amtrak train with two engines and 14 cars, carrying 214 passengers and a crew of 17 derailed in Bourbonnais, Illinois. All told both engines and 11 cars were off the track, 11 people died, and 121 were injured. As director of EMS for one of the areas two local hospitals, Kevin and his medics jumped into action. His ambulance crews assisted 52 patients that evening: nine with life threatening injuries, 18 with serious injuries, and 21 with non-urgent injuries. While most hospitals have a disaster plan, few ever have to put that plan into action. That evening Kevin was instrumental in seeing that plan implemented.

“Kevin joined Watseka Lodge #446 in 2015. He now serves as our senior warden. He likens the bonds of Freemasonry to the bonds that first responders form with each other. The Brotherhood and camraderie is important to him. Since joining lodge, he has been instrumental in brining 10 new members into our lodge.

“He spends multiple nights each week attending meetings with local fire and EMS departments to ensure that the best possible care is given to the citizens in need, of our area. He also works with community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, United Way, and others to promote child safety, elder safety, and other health related topics. He has volunteered with multiple IL CHIP events, even inviting the Lodge to partner with health fairs and other events put on by his employer.

“A few years ago, Kevin joined the Scottish Rite. Shortly after he joined, he had agreed to take a part in a degree at a reunion. While preparing for the degree, a stage crew member had an incident where he hit his head. Kevin’s natural training as a first responder kicked in as he evaluated the Brother to make sure he did not need further medical assistance.

“I am submitting Brother Kevin Hack’s name for consideration of the First Responder of the Year Award not for one sole event but for a defining career of providing those services, both Kevin Hack First Responder of the Year nomination professionally and voluntarily to this remote-rural area (and beyond) that his Uncle talked about over 30 years ago.”

Hack was moved by the honor.

“There’s close to 40 years in EMS, and this is a big deal. Thank you all. I appreciate it,” he said.